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tv   Nightline  ABC  February 20, 2016 12:37am-1:05am EST

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down when the lights go down this is "nightline." >> tonight, the pta president framed by fellow parents. how one misunderstanding escalated into a nightmare lasting more than five years. >> they're not mine! >> tonight the california mom speaking out after winning millions in damages. the demand for illegal drugs here in the u.s. is fueling the drug war in mexico. >> this is a war that we're responsible for. >> the oscar-nominated documentary "cartel land" showing a harrowing look at the vigilante groups taking on meth manufacturers there.
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good evening. thank you for joining us. vendetta, revenge. both make for a good book or movie. both can have dangerous and real-life consequences. that's what happened to a pta president in california who found herself targeted and framed by a couple of very angry parents sparked by a single word. she tells abc's chris connelly how her life has not been the same ever since.
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it's finally all over. >> reporter: victoria peters can finally smile. after nearly six years of personal and legal torment. a jury awarding her $5.7 million in damages from the scheming, vindictive couple once out to destroy this pta mom's good >> it was awful. i mean, it just -- it crushed me. and deep inside i was just -- i was just dying. you know, dying. >> what does that money represent to you? >> years of hard labor, stress, you know. changes. terrible changes. >> reporter: for kelli peters that stress, those terrible changes, and this relentlessly bizarre saga, began in 2010 at plaza advice sa stool. kelli was a parent volunteer supervising after-school pickup. as this woman, attorney jill easter arrived, to get easter's
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wasn't there on time jill easter teed off on kelli. >> i said, i am so sorry, he didn't line up fast enough, maybe he just walked slow. >> reporter: for jill easter, and later her husband kent, who's an attorney as well, that word "slow" would activate a find of bad parenting nuclear bomb that would exact a spectacular toll. >> i believe mrs. peters said you're being slow, like falling behind in line, and i think the easters took it as their son was being mentally slow. >> reporter: jill easter's words to kelli grew increasingly heated. >> i said, i'm done. this is crazy. and that made her very angry. she lost her mind over it. i turned my back and she yelled, "i will get you!" >> reporter: the easters waged a campaign against kelli, making wild accusations, handing out flyers, demanding she be fired from her unpaid position.
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removed from the school, removed from any irvine school, banished. completely banished. >> reporter: the school's investigation backed kelli 100%. that was when things started to really get weird. on a school day in 2011, as kent easter made a 1:15 p.m. call to irvine police using an alias and a phoney accent. >> just had to go over to the school, i saw a car driving very erratically. i'm concerned one of the parent volunteers there may be under the influence or using drugs. >> what's your last name? >> command dravikar. >> reporter: trying to set uncle uncleli for a bogus bust. the cops discovering these illicit items in her car. >> a bag of marijuana protruding. >> they put it on the police car for everybody to see. which was really hard. because i kept thinking, my daughter's getting out any minute.
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whole world is looking at this right now. and i said, please, they're not mine, i swear to you they're not mine. >> reporter: she was right. they weren't hers. tests showed the easters' dna on the marijuana pipe found in peters' car. the phone call? police traced it to this newport beach hotel. not where you'd spot erratic driving in irvine. and that man captured on the hotel surveillance video. kent easter. >> when the police were able to determine that the defendant's law firm was next door, the pieces started to come together for them. >> reporter: kelli was cleared. police gathering evidence indicating the easters had planted the drugs and paraphernalia in kelli's car the night before. >> the case of an irvine lawyer charged with planting -- >> reporter: the easters were each charged with false imprisonment for trying to set kelli up. jill copped a plea and was sentenced to 120 days. kent easter wanted to go to trial, forcing kelli to relive
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stand. defense attorney painted him as jill's hapless stooge. >> a husband trying to appease a difficult wife. >> reporter: new evidence, this e-mail from jill to kent, a honey-do list from hell. she has legal assignment for kent and wants them done in 24 hours. exhaust the criminal code against kelli. file suits against the school district, the school, and whomever else we possibly can, tomorrow. then a bizarre twist. jill easter appearing as a surprise witness for kent. appearing, but never actually testifying. claiming she'd gone deaf. kent was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days. but the toll of the whole ordeal left kelli eager for another kind of justice at a civil trial. >> you know, that was hard for me to want to do. why would i go through another trial?
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i mean -- i needed to get out there, get my story told, stick up for myself. >> reporter: she sued the easters, saying she was forced to endure extreme distress, fear, and public humiliation. still, kent easter remained defiant as this exclusive deposition video shows. >> sir, did you knowingly participate in a scheme with your wife to frame kelli peters? >> no. >> you maintain that you are innocent? of framing kelli peters for drug possession? >> yes. >> okay. it seems to me -- don't you think you'd feel better if you just said, you know what, i did it, i screwed up, i regret it, i'm sorry? wouldn't that feel good just to say that? >> this is a therapy session or a deposition? >> reporter: what would shrink at trial though would be kent easter's resolve. as he admitted at last to planting those illicit drugs.
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fact that he was willing to say that he had done what he'd always denied doing? >> not only that, he also said, "kelli didn't do anything to my son, it was all made up." that made me start crying. that was more important than anything, i think, i'd heard out of his mouth, ever. >> he tried to fall on his sword and say, well, i admit it, i did it. and i think the jury saw through that. >> reporter: the jury sided with kelli, taking just a few hours damages. >> and she was vicinityndicated. her. >> reporter: with the easters divorcing and kent easter file fog bankruptcy, any collection of that judgment might go a little, oh, what's is word -- slow. nonetheless. >> why was it worth going through the civil trial, even though you're not sure if you'll see any money from the easters?
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important to face these people. it was kind of like having a little one on one with them. i feel like they thought they were smarter than everybody, and we needed to go in there and prove who the smart ones were. who the good people were. they just can't get away with stuff like that. >> you've got healing still to do? >> yeah, but i have to heal fast. i need to get out and work. >> fresh start? >> fresh start, yeah. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm chris connelly in irvine, california. next, the vigilante groups taking up arms against drug cartels in mexico. a tumultuous tale told in the oscar-nominated documentary "cartel land." that's right. just announced. ford explorer...edge...escape... and expedition... are available with 0% financing for 60 months. ford suvs. designed to help you be unstoppable. no wonder ford is america's best selling brand.
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the global market in illicit drugs has turned into modern war. and ground zero is mexico. drug cartels battle authorities and each other. tonight an up-close look at the enormous costs of this war as vigilante groups take on the cartels. a story told on the oscar-nominated documentary "cartel land." here's abc's matt gutman. >> reporter: brewing in that barrel is the stuff of war. it's meth. cooked by masked and heavily armed men deep inside the mexican jungle. the cooking process and the shoot-outs that ensue in a war to control the drug trade, just
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blasted at you in the oscar-nominated documentary "cartel land." it's a chilling look into mexico's drug war. a war so brutal, just this week the pope made an emotional plea to mexico's youth to resist the temptation of the cartels and pray for the victims of this deadly battle. >> this is war that's happening in the country just south of us. war in which 100,000 people have been killed since 2007. this is a car that we're responsible for. >> reporter: filmmaker matthew heineman spent nine months in a mexican state to bring the war home to us. according to the dea mexican cartels supply as much as 80% of all meth sold in the u.s. >> that's why there's been this fight for power in this area. >> reporter: and a large portion of it cooked up by the knights templar cartel. their byproducts are extortion,
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the cartel wielded almost complete control for over a decade. so much grief and injustice, so little government action, that citizens decided to fight back. in 2013, organizing themselves into a vigilante group called the alter defenses, or self-defenders. led by a larger than life small-town doctor, jose manuel morales. heineman was there to capture the heady early days of this movement. their goal, to take down cartel members one by one. as the movement grows larger and more powerful, heineman discovers this is not just a story about good against evil -- >> i came away thinking there is
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knights templar and the defenses. they use the same means, murder, extortion -- >> there are definitely members of the group that operate that way. but not everyone was like that. everybody's trying to protect their villages or their towns. what unfortunately took place was power corrupted. >> reporter: that evil whipping up increasing violence from which not even the documentarian was immune. were you ever a target of the cartel? >> there's countless times when i was surrounded by people, threatened. there's many, many close calls and scary moments. >> reporter: the government issued an ultimatum to the vigilantes. pledge allegiance to the government and enjoy immunity, or go to jail. fearing prosecution, most surrendered and were rearmed. but morales holds out because he believes the government itself
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>> the very institutions that are there to protect them either weren't there, or they were working in collaboration, direct collusion, with the cartels. >> reporter: u.s. authorities say it's widespread corruption that makes this the drug war so difficult to fight. last july the mexican government was called into question when narco king man el chapo causeguzman busted out of this prison in mexico city through an underground tunnel built into his cell, what many experts believed was pulled off with help from the inside. months later authorities reportedly tracking him to this secret hideout. seen here this video released by the melks can government. but el chapo outsmarted the mexican marines by slipping away through this mirrored wall, designed for this exact moment. >> it's incredible that right out of that closet and that mirror is this perfectly constructed secret passageway.
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it led to a tunnel and then the city's drainage system. hundreds of yards el chapo and his lieutenant crawled through here, you can't even crouch, three feet high, extremely claustrophobic. you can tell why they came out of here looking so feltsdy. he was finally caught and sent back to jail but not without exposing the weaknesses of mexican law enforcement in the face of the cartels. and they rely on tunnels, not just as escape routes but also as smuggling routes. this is terrifying. but it only has to be comfortable enough to do one thing -- smuggle drugs fast. so far, authorities have uncovered more than 180 tunnels along the 2,000-mile-long border with mexico. the cartels smuggle not just underground but over it too. border. the cartel scouts keep getting away.
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armed vigilante group fighting on this side of the border. arizona border recon is led by tim nailer foley. >> once i learned how the cartels pretty much control both the human smuggling and the drug smuggling, we shifted our primary goal to keep cartel activity out of the country. >> reporter: which is why initially foley appreciated the order of defense 1,000 miles to the south. >> they're taking back what is theirs from the cartel and it's nice to see they're standing up and going back at them. >> reporter: but "cartel land" reminds us that power corrupts. the film showing that over time, morales made too many enemies. he was ultimately arrested on gun charges and taken to jail where he has languished for over a year and a half without trial. when he heard "cartel land" was nominated for an oscar, morales sent heineman this audio recording from jail.
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the noble gesture you had in making this documentary movie, that you had to suffer with me daytona in the battles we all endured together. >> reporter: as those battles continue, the chefs keep cooking up addiction and sending it northward. >> at the heart of this is america's voracious appetite for drugs. you know, it's basics of supply and demand. as long as there's a demand for drugs up here, there will be a supply of drugs coming from mexico and south america. until that stops all this violence that comes with it won't stop. >> reporter: for "nightline" i'm matt gutman in los angeles. >> you can see if "cartel land" will win the golden statue at the oscars february 28th right here on abc. stars share their favorite memories at disneyland's 60th
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finally tonight, 60 years ago disneyland was born. there's no place happier to stay for celebration, stars, singing, dancing, even sharing memories about the magic. turning 60. >> the most famous entertainment attraction in the world -- >> reporter: walt disney's very first theme park disneyland 1955. now iconic characters and stars are celebrating our parent company disney's diamond anniversary. "dancing with the stars" derek hough is master of ceremonies. >> we had this entire parade, hundreds and hundreds of dancers.
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>> reporter: even the year's hottest droid bb8 will be in attendance. along with musical numbers. "be like you" from "the jungle book." walk like you talk like you >> reporter: the song guaranteed to get stuck in your head for another 60 years, "frozen's" "let it go." let it go let it go >> reporter: be sure not to miss the wonderful world of disney, disneyland 60, this sunday, february 21st, at 8:00 p.m. on abc. we leave you with one final note about the passing of one of america's greatest authors, harper lee. her novel "to kill a mockingbird" left a lasting legacy. president obama and first lady michelle obama paid their respects today saying, "what that one story did more powerfully than 100 speeches possibly could was change the way we saw each other, and then the way we saw ourselves." thank you for watching.

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