Framed, Chapter 2: ‘I will get you’: How a PTA mom became the target of a revenge campaign



The lawyers lived in a big house with a three-car garage and a Mediterranean clay-tile roof, on a block of flawless lawns and facades of repeating peach. The couple had three young children, a cat named Emerald and a closetful of board games. On their nightstand were photos of their wedding in Sonoma wine country.

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Kent and Jill Easter were in their 30s, and wore their elite educations on their license plates: Stanford and UCLA Law School for him, Berkeley Law for her. Experts in corporate and securities law, they had met at a Palo Alto law firm.


She had quit her practice to become a stay-at-home mom in Irvine, and by appearance her daily routine was unexceptional: play dates at the community pool, sushi with girlfriends, hair salons, Starbucks, yoga. He was logging 60-hour workweeks as a partner in one of Orange County’s biggest law firms, with a 14th-floor office overlooking Newport Beach.

The story Kelli Peters told police about them, in February 2011, was a strange one. She was scared, and her voice kept cracking. A year earlier, the Easters had campaigned unsuccessfully to oust her from the school where she ran the after-school program. The ordeal had shaken her, but she thought it was over.

Now, after a phone tip led police to a stash of drugs in her car, she thought of the Easters. She thought, “They got me.”


It had started over something so small.

Feb. 17, 2010, had been a Wednesday, which meant it was one of the busiest afternoons of the week at Plaza Vista elementary in Irvine.

A tennis class had just ended on the playground behind the main administrative building, and Peters — volunteer director of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program, called ACE — had the task of rounding up the kids.


She would lead them into the building through the back door and hand them off to parents waiting on the sidewalk in front of the school.

The Easters’ 6-year-old son had been left outside briefly, waiting at the locked back door for someone to let him in. The man who ran the tennis class had found him and walked him to the front desk.

Jill Easter thought her son seemed upset and demanded to know what had happened.

Peters explained that the boy had been slow to line up, that he tended to take his time, so this wasn’t unusual. She said she hadn’t noticed he was missing when she scooped up the others.

“I apologized over and over,” Peters wrote in her account to school officials. “I gave him a hug and I thought she looked like she was OK with everything.”

Easter was not OK. She seemed fixated on the tennis coach, by Peters’ account, and wondered whether he had touched her son. Wasn’t it strange that the coach had brought him to the front? “I kept saying no, it’s not strange, a lot of my instructors bring the kids up,” Peters wrote.

The conversation made Peters uncomfortable, and she wanted to end it. “She made a comment as I walked away that she wondered how I could sleep at night with the way I treat people. I went inside and started crying I was so upset,” Peters wrote. “But the weird thing was she never changed her facial expression. It was always the same weird smile.”



The day after the confrontation, Jill Easter complained that her son had been “crying hysterically” after being locked out of the school building for 19 minutes. She wanted Peters gone.

“She told me that she blames my son because he is slow and he often gets left behind because it’s hard to wait for him,” Jill Easter wrote to school officials. “For the record, my son is very intelligent, mature and athletic and has successfully participated in many ACE classes. He is receiving good grades and has earned many awards this year. He is not mentally or physically slow by any standard.”

The district ACE director, in her own reports on the incident, wrote that she’d interviewed the coach, as well as the Easters, and concluded that “nothing happened” to the boy, who had been left outside for “closer to 5-8 minutes.”

What, then, could account for Jill Easter’s ire? It seemed to boil down to a single word, misheard as an insult. The director wrote that Easter thought Peters had called her son “intellectually slow, not pokey slow.”

Peters adored the Easters’ son. She knew him as a quiet kid, smart, prone to daydream, a participant in the school arts program that she had worked hard to keep alive. He would race up to her, proud of his drawings. “I thought he was amazing,” she said.


Peters’ friends suggested that maybe the boy’s attachment to her played some role in engendering the mother’s rancor. Peters did not know. “Maybe he’d go home and say, ‘Ms. Kelli, Ms. Kelli, Ms. Kelli,’” she said.

School principal Heather Phillips talked to Jill Easter by phone, the week after the incident. Easter said that she “didn’t want other children to be hurt,” Phillips wrote. “She mentioned that both she and her husband are attorneys.”

Phillips had learned that Easter was approaching parents on campus to rail against Peters. This could be construed as harassment, the principal told Easter. The school had a rule about civility.

“She stated that what she is doing isn’t harassment, that she is fully within her rights and that she is going to continue until Kelli is gone,” Phillips wrote. “She also stated that she might be making a sticker or sign for her car stating what Kelli had done.”

Peters, who had volunteered for years without controversy, was badly shaken. She worried how the attention might affect the school.

If you want me to leave, she told the principal, I will.

Of course not, the principal replied.

Jill Easter demanded that the Irvine police look into it. They did. There had been no crime.


She requested a restraining order, claiming that Peters was “harassing and stalking myself and my 6-year-old son,” and had threatened to kill her. The court threw it out.

Then came the civil suit, filed by Kent Easter, claiming his son had been the victim of “false imprisonment” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” He had suffered “extreme and severe mental anguish,” the suit claimed. “The acts of Defendant PETERS alleged above were willful, wanton, malicious, and oppressive, and justify the awarding of exemplary and punitive damages.”

The Easters dropped the suit. As a result of their complaints, the school required a head count before children were released from the after-school program. And the Easters got a refund on their ACE tuition. Otherwise, the power couple lost. The school stood by its longtime volunteer, and in early 2011 she was elected president of the PTA.


Peters struck Det. Mark Andreozzi as genuinely scared. Alerted by a mysterious caller, police had searched her car in the school parking lot on Feb. 16, 2011, and found a stash of marijuana, a ceramic pipe and painkillers in baggies labeled EZY Dose Pill Pouch.

Peters told police something she recalled Jill Easter saying during their original confrontation: “I will get you.”


The drugs had appeared nearly a year to the day since that incident — the third Wednesday of February — and Peters did not think the timing was coincidental.

Still, she could not be positive the Easters were behind the drugs in her car. She told police there was another possibility — a 43-year-old dad who lived across the street from the school and had a reputation for bizarre behavior.

Police knew him well. They had responded to complaints about him wandering onto campus without permission, ranting at school staff, heckling the crossing guard, and videotaping the crosswalk as kids moved through it. At least once, he showed up in a Batman costume, masked and caped, to pick up his son.

He made parents nervous; Peters had felt sorry for him. But now she recalled how he’d wanted her PTA job, how he’d even asked her for copies of the bylaws. Maybe he had studied them, and knew that drug possession would disqualify her from her position.

Cops have an informal phrase for such people, who do not quite meet the requirements of a 51-50, the code for an involuntary psychiatric hold. They are 51-49½, vexing but hard to do anything about.

At the Irvine Police Department, some cops thought, “It has to be him.” He seemed a likelier culprit than two lawyers they had never heard of.



Andreozzi was a former highway patrolman who had worked narcotics for years. He wore plain clothes, a beard and a half-Mohawk. As the lead detective on the case, he had been given carte blanche. Safety and schools were the twin pillars of Irvine’s pride.

He couldn’t rule Peters out for drug possession just because she came off as sympathetic. He checked her record. It was clean. He asked about her at the school. “Everyone loves her,” the principal said.

Andreozzi played the call that had summoned police to the school on Feb. 16, 2011. When the dispatcher asked for his name, the caller had said, “VJ Chandrasckhr” and spelled it out. The caller claimed to have a daughter at Plaza Vista, but the school had nobody by that name.

Andreozzi listened to the call again and again. He noticed that the caller stuttered nervously, and volunteered more information than a typical caller did, as if following a script.

Andreozzi noticed, too, that while the caller started off speaking in standard American English, he inexplicably acquired an Indian accent midway through the conversation — a faint, halfhearted one — as if suddenly deciding the name he’d given required it.


Some of Andreozzi’s colleagues believed it was Peters’ PTA rival, trying to disguise his voice.

They traced the call. It had been placed from a wall-mounted phone in the ground-floor business office at the Island Hotel, an elegant high-rise resort in Newport Beach.

Det. Matt McLaughlin went to the hotel basement to study surveillance footage. On the screen, people moved in and out of the lobby. He was looking for the PTA rival, a 5-foot-8 Asian man in his early 40s. There was no sign of him.

There was, however, a tall, lanky figure he did not recognize — a man in a dark suit who walked calmly toward the business center just before the call.

“It looks like Kent Easter,” the school principal said, when shown the footage.

Andreozzi’s team began following the Easters, learning their habits.

They learned that Kent Easter’s office was just a few hundred feet from the Island Hotel.

They discovered that the couple’s home on Santa Eulalia street in Irvine was about a mile from Peters’ apartment.

They discovered that Kent Easter carried a BlackBerry, his wife an iPhone, and that between 2:37 a.m. and 4:21 a.m. on Feb. 16, 2011 — early on the day the drugs turned up in Peters’ car — the phones had exchanged 15 texts.


The iPhone had been pinging off the cellphone tower nearest the Easters’ home. The BlackBerry was pinging off a different tower, the one near Peters’ apartment complex, where her PT Cruiser had been parked in the outdoor lot.

The lot had a code-activated gate, but was easy to infiltrate for anyone patient enough to follow another car in.


Every time Kelli Peters talked to police, she had a powerful guilty feeling. She was sure they would discover every bad and semi-bad thing she had ever done.

Like how she became frustrated with Irvine’s interminable stoplights and did not adhere religiously to the posted speeds. Like how she had once hurled her company-issued smartphone out her car window, on the day she quit the mortgage business in disgust. She was sure they’d stumble onto something.

Peters found a therapist. She described how police had discovered the drugs in her car, and how she had insisted over and over that they weren’t hers. How police had not arrested her but still might, any day.

The therapist looked incredulous and said, “How did you get out of that? Nobody gets out of that.”

It occurred to Peters that her own therapist might not believe her. She wondered how many other people, even her friends, harbored doubts. She thought, “Would I believe me?”



They had worked quietly for weeks, watching the Easters, learning their habits, and now the detectives were prepared to move. Early on the morning of March 4, 2011, a small army of Irvine police — nearly two dozen — gathered at the station to rehearse the plan. They would serve search warrants simultaneously at Kent Easter’s Newport Beach office and at the couple’s home.

Andreozzi and his team had debated how to get Kent Easter to talk. They had to get him alone, away from his colleagues. They would be foolish to underestimate his intelligence. But they thought that a man accustomed to winning with his brain might be undone by his faith in its powers.

So they would come on gently, playing dumb. Their edge was asymmetrical knowledge; he didn’t know what they knew. The team followed Easter’s Toyota Camry hybrid as he drove to work in Newport Beach. The vanity plate read UCLAJD1 in a Stanford University frame.

Easter had just pulled into the garage, into his reserved parking spot, when Andreozzi climbed out of his car and hailed him, and was joined moments later by another plainclothesman.

Their questions were vague: Was he aware of anything that had happened recently at Plaza Vista elementary?

At first Easter seemed happy to talk. He had a problem last year, he said. His son had been locked out of the school, and a school volunteer had berated him for being slow. He and his wife had filed complaints, but then moved on.


“We didn’t want to press the issue,” Easter said. “Bygones be bygones.”

They mentioned the name Kelli Peters. Easter said he had never met her, didn’t even know what she looked like.

As the questions grew more pointed, Andreozzi watched Easter cross his arms. He no longer seemed happy to see the detectives.

“Are you recording this, by the way?” Easter asked.

“Yeah,” Andreozzi said.

Had he heard of anything happening to Peters lately? Had she been in trouble?


Now Andreozzi’s partner, Det. Wayne Brannon, said, “Got any idea what the heck we’re talking about?”


Brannon told Easter he had been following him. He had seen him coming out of the dry cleaners.

“You gotta ask yourself, as an educated man, why in the heck would I be following you around? ’Cause that’s all I do. I work in criminal investigations. All I do is follow people around. I learn their little habits,” Brannon said. “You gotta start asking yourself, ‘Why are we standing in front of you, talking to you?’”

“I definitely am.”

They told him to think back, about 2½ weeks ago. Was there any reason he would have been out in the small hours of the morning?


Now and then he ran out for diapers, Easter said, but odds are he was home.

Easter now looked very nervous, and when he was nervous he did what the caller had done. He began to stutter.

“I want you to use that big brain of yours, mouth closed, listen,” Brannon told him. “At some point during this conversation you’re going to have to make a big-boy decision, and that’s gonna be on you.”

In the age of computers and technology and cell phones, Brannon said, “Big Brother’s always watching. We’re absolutely not the smartest guys in the shed, OK? But we can follow the dots from one to the next to the next.”

They knew, he said, that Easter’s phone had been pinging in the middle of the night near Peters’ apartment. And if there was DNA on the drugs in Peters’ car, they would find it.

Brannon said, “I would hope and pray for your sake that there’s a big light going off, big bells going off. Knowing what I just told you, is there anything that you would like to add to your statement to me, whether retracting or adding anything to your statement?”

“I would like to get a lawyer.”

“That’s the big-boy answer.”

The search warrant crackled as Andreozzi pulled it out of his back pocket. In the center console of Easter’s car were some diet pills. They were in a miniature plastic baggie. The label said EZY Dose Pill Pouch.


Read Part 3: LIMBO >>