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The cop wanted her car keys. Kelli Peters handed them over. They were outside Plaza Vista School in Irvine, where she had watched her daughter go from kindergarten to fifth grade, where any minute now the girl would be getting out of class to look for her.
Now she watched as her ruin seemed to unfold before her. Watched as the cop emerged from her car holding a Ziploc bag of marijuana, 17 grams worth, plus a ceramic pot pipe, plus two smaller EZY Dose Pill Pouch baggies, one with 11 Percocet pills, another with 29 Vicodin. It was enough to send her to jail, and more than enough to destroy her name. Her legs buckled and she was on her knees, shaking violently and sobbing and insisting the drugs were not hers. The cop, a year veteran, had found drugs on many people, in many settings.
When caught, they always lied. Peters had been doing what she always did on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to stay on top of a hundred small emergencies. She was 49, with short blond hair and a slightly bohemian air. As the volunteer director of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program at Plaza Vista, she was a constant presence on campus, whirling down the halls in flip-flops and bright sundresses, a peace- pendant hanging from her neck. If she had time between tasks, she might slip into the cartooning class to watch her year-old daughter, Sydnie, as she drew.
Her daughter had been her excuse to quit a high-pressure job in the mortgage industry peddling loans, which she had come to associate with the burn of acid reflux. No matter how frenetic the pace became at school, the worst day was better than thatand often afternoons ended with a rush of kids throwing their arms around her. At 5 feet tall, she watched many of them outgrow her. Peters had spent her childhood in horse country at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.
She tossed pizzas, turned a wrench in a skate shop, flew to Hawaii on impulse and stayed for two years. She mixed mai tais at a Newport Beach rib t. She waited tables at a rock-n-roll-themed pasta house. A married lawyer — one of the regulars — grew infatuated with her and showed up at her house one night.
He went away, but a sense of vulnerability lingered. In her mids she married Bill, a towering, soft-spoken blues musician and restaurateur who made her feel calm. She spent years trying to get pregnant, and when it happened her priorities narrowed. In Irvine, she found a master-planned city where bars and liquor stores, pawnshops and homeless shelters had been methodically purged, where neighborhoods were regulated by noise ordinances, lawn-length requirements and mailbox-uniformity rules. It was 66 square miles, with big fake lakes, 54 parks,people, and 62, trees.
Anxiety about crime was poured into the very curve of the streets and the layout of the parks, all conceived on drawing boards to deter lawbreaking. For all that outsiders mocked Irvine as a place of sterile uniformity, she had become comfortable in its embrace. The muted beige strip malls teemed with tutoring centers. If neighboring Newport Beach had more conspicuous flourishes of wealth, like mega-yachts and ocean-cliff mansions, the status competition in Irvine — where so many of the big houses looked pretty much alike — centered on education.
Plaza Vista was a year-round public school in a coveted neighborhood, and after six years she knew the layout as well as her own kitchen. The trim campus buildings, painted to harmonize with the neighborhood earth tones, suggested a medical office-park; out back were an organic garden, a climbing wall and a well-kept athletic field fringed by big peach-colored homes. Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to support stories like this one. Start getting full access to our ature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. Around campus, she was the mom everyone knew.
She had a natural rapport with children. The school had given her a desk at the front office, which provided an up-close view of countless parental melodramas. The moms who wanted the 7th-grade math teacher fired because their kids got Bs. Or the mom who demanded a network of giant umbrellas and awnings to shield her kids from the playground sun. That afternoon — Feb. She was in the multi-purpose room, leading a cluster of tiny martial artists through their warm-up exercises, when a school administrator came in to find her. A policeman was at the front desk, asking for her by name.
She ran down the hall, seized by panic. She thought it must be about her husband, who was now working as a traveling wine salesman. On a normal shift, Shaver could expect to handle barking-dog calls, noisy-neighbor calls, shoplifters and car burglaries, maybe a car wreck or two.
He was a sniper on the Irvine Police SWAT team, armed with cutting-edge equipment that was the envy of other departments, but had never needed to pull the trigger. He had been seven hours into an unmemorable shift when, at p. I was, I just had to go over to the school and, uh, I was, I saw a car driving very erratically. The caller said he had seen drugs in the car.
He knew the name of the driver — Kelli. He knew the type of car — a PT Cruiser. People were drifting in and out of the school with their kids, watching, as the policeman led Peters into the parking lot. His patrol car was blocking her PT Cruiser. He put them on his hood, and she begged him to put them somewhere else. Her daughter might see. Anyone might see. Shaver put the drugs in his trunk and led Peters back inside the school to a conference room.
He peered into her pupils and checked her pulse. He made her touch her nose. He made her walk and turn. He made her close her eyes, tilt her head up and count silently to She passed all the tests. Shaver could have arrested Peters. Possessing pot on school grounds was a misdemeanor.
Possessing narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet without a prescription was a felony. She could do time. He could take her to the station, clock out by the end of his shift and be home in time for dinner. Instead, he kept asking questions. He was patient and alert to detail, qualities ingrained in a sharpshooter trained to lie atop a building for hours, studying a window through a rifle scope.
He interviewed school administrators, who confirmed what Peters had said. She had arrived at the school office around This meant the caller, who claimed to have just seen her at p. Shaver asked Peters if he could search her apartment. She agreed, reluctantly.
She drove her PT Cruiser to her apartment about a block away, while Shaver and another officer followed. Reporter Christopher Goffard ed us via Facebook Live to answer your questions about how he reported this story. They had lived here since moving to Irvine, more than a decade back. They had found themselves consistently outbid in their attempt to buy a home.
Money had been tight since she quit her job.
In affluent Irvine, your relation to the real estate you inhabited was one of the invisible class lines. She watched as Shaver searched the kitchen cabinets, the bedrooms, the drawers, the couches, the patio. He found nothing to link her to the drugs in her car.
By now, the case had lost its open-and-shut feel. People typically hid their drugs in the glove box, or under the car seat. Peters was convinced she would be spending the night in jail. But after he had finished searching the apartment, Shaver told her that he was not going to take her in. The forensics team would be coming with the long Q-tips to take cheek swabs from her and her daughter, to take their prints and to scour the Cruiser for evidence.
This article appeared in print and online on August 28, Contact the reporter: Twitter. Enjoying this series? Get full access to our ature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. 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. 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. The story Kelli Peters told police about them, in Februarywas 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. 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. 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 man who ran the tennis class had found him and walked him to the front desk.
Easter was not OK. The conversation made Peters uncomfortable, and she wanted to end it. It was always the same weird smile. She wanted Peters gone. He is receiving good grades and has earned many awards this year. He is not mentally or physically slow by any standard. It seemed to boil down to a single word, misheard as an insult. 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.
Peters did not know. Kelli, Ms. School principal Heather Phillips talked to Jill Easter by phone, the week after the incident.Mom in Los Angeles California looking for a fuck
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She was the PTA mom everyone knew. Who would want to harm her?