'I'm so glad it is over,' Kelli Peters says
brightcove.createExperiences(); The call to police in Irvine, California, came from a father of a Plaza Vista Elementary School student: The father claimed he had seen a parent volunteer driving erratically into the school parking lot and hide drugs behind the driver’s seat before entering the school. He gave police a license plate number and a name: Kelli.
When police searched the vehicle of PTA volunteer and mother Kelli Peters, they discovered a baggie containing marijuana, Percocet, Vicodin and a pipe. Kelli was volunteering with the after-school karate class inside the school when police summoned her to her car and confronted her with the evidence.
“My whole life is ruined at that moment,” says Peters. “That is what I have nightmares about. That moment will never go away.”
On February 5, five-years after the nightmare began, a jury awarded Peters $5.7 million in damages in a civil lawsuit against Plaza Vista parents Kent Easter and his ex-wife lawyer/author Ava Everheart (at the time known as Jill Easter). The couple, both of whom were lawyers, embarked on a plot to sabotage Peters by planting the drugs in her car. Kent had been the concerned father who initially phoned police.
“We had to do it because we were so bullied,” Kelli says of the suit. “These people were so evil.”
For more on the revenge plot by fellow parents that turned Kelli Peters’ life upside down, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
The revenge plot seemingly began one afternoon when Jill Easter, a Berkeley law school graduate, came to pick up her 6-year-old son but couldn’t find him outside. When she inquired about his whereabouts to Peters, who was volunteering to help with pick-up, Peters replied that he was “slow.”
Peters meant the comment innocuously: She says she meant the boy was walking slowly. But Jill Easter took offense, perceiving the comment to be a dig at her son’s intelligence. She went to the principal demanded that Peters be removed from her volunteer duties.
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The conflict escalated when she claimed Peters had stalked her and her son and threatened to kill her. Then, her husband Kent Easter, a UCLA law school graduate and partner at a prestigious Newport Beach law firm, filed a civil suit claiming that Peters locked their son out of school for 19 minutes for being too slow to line up after class.
“I was really nervous about the fact that I was going to have to dip into our retirement [savings],” says Kelli. My husband is 15 years older than me and he was getting ready to retire. I was thinking I am going to have to spend my husband’s retirement on an attorney for something I didn t do.”
The stress took its toll on Peters: Her hair began falling out. Her husband began suffering panic attacks. Her daughter was bullied at school.
“We completely stopped going out to dinner,” says Kelli. “I had already been so humiliated.”
While Peters feared for her freedom, the Irvine police investigation zeroed in on the Easters. Using phone records, police discovered that Kent Easter’s phone pinged at a cell tower near Peters’ home the night before the drugs were planted in Kelli’s car. And DNA swabs of Kent and Jill Easter matched DNA on the marijuana pipe and some of the pills.
In 2012, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against the Easters for conspiracy to procure false arrest, false imprisonment and conspiracy to falsely report a crime.
Jill Easter pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment. Kent Easter was convicted of false imprisonment in a second trial after his first ended in a mistrial. Both received jail time and probation.
“It was ego,” says lawyer Rob Marcereau, who represented Peters in her civil case. “It was a sense of entitlement. It spun out of control.”
Meanwhile, Peters is trying to move on with her life and take care of her husband Bill, who now has leukemia. “I’m so glad it is over,” she says.