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A former Brea school board member is accusing elected city and police officials of coordinating surveillance on her at recent protests and using their public platforms to spread formal, publicized memos and records aimed at painting her as anti law enforcement 

Part of that effort, she alleges, included the council directing the police department to gather intel on and surveil her — singling out her behavior — during a public protest.

Keri Kropke, whose term as trustee at the Brea Olinda Unified School District ended Nov. 30, ties it to ire by some in the community toward her stances on issues like systemic racism and police accountability.

Former Brea Olinda Unified School District Trustee Keri Kropke.

Others in the community claim it’s Kropke who is the agitator.

Her outcry, and pending government tort claim against City Hall, largely centers on a city memo about her from acting Brea Police Chief Adam Hawley, which he sent to the City Council over the summer. Read it here.

It paints a narrative where Kropke on three separate occasions disrupted or interfered with police this year during individual arrests and a June public demonstration against police violence.

Hawley’s letter was made public and recirculated by a local politics blog, which she said fueled online criticism of her. 

What followed was the decision by Brea officials to make public all the relevant police memos, recordings and videos pertaining to each of those incidents outlined in Hawley’s letter.

The city posted that file dump to its public-facing “Transparency” webpage.

Hawley’s memo claims Kropke disrupted officers on two occasions over the summer while they were either detaining or questioning vandalism and robbery suspects. 

He — and a retrospective police memo included in the city’s online records dump — also claim Kropke used derogatory and offensive language toward officers during a June 30 social justice march along Brea Blvd, which police were monitoring. 

Kropke argues each instance outlined in Hawley’s letter is either exaggerated, taken out of context, or outright false, and that police officers were targeting and surveilling her, a member of the public — singling her out in the crowd of protesters during a June 30 public march.

City officials, in turn, say their release of the documents and recordings from each of those incidents comes out of “unique circumstances.” 

“These factors include: ongoing social media discussion of the Brea Police Department’s recent interactions with Ms. Kropke; the significant reputational interests of Brea Police Department officers and Ms. Kropke; and a request received on July 19, 2020 from Ms. Kropke, submitted by her attorney, that the City ‘make public any video or audio recordings … and set the record straight,’” reads a city statement posted on its website. 

The driver of all this coordinated political retribution Kropke’s alleging, in her eyes, is Brea Mayor Marty Simonoff, a former police officer in Huntington Park.

“With knowledge the police summary was false, and in an unprecedented move, Mayor Simonoff worked with city manager, Bill Gallardo to direct the public to the city website to access the summary about Ms. Kropke to validate the City’s false version of events,” Kropke wrote in a Nov. 14 statement to the media. 

Though Kropke told Voice of OC she couldn’t point to a document proving an explicit, coordinated effort against her inside City Hall:

“Do I have a gotcha document? No. But the Mayor’s relationship with the police cannot be overlooked.” 

Simonoff declined to comment on Nov. 18, the day the City Council was set to discuss Kropke’s legal claim against them in closed session. He cited the legal circumstances around the closed session meeting, and again declined to comment on Nov. 30.

To Dwight Manley, who grew up in Brea and is now an influential local developer, Kropke is the agitator who’s trying to deflect blame from herself. “Her plight was created by herself, not by other people,” he said. 

According to her bio page on the Brea Olinda Unified School District website, Kropke was first elected to the board in 2018, and her term ended Nov. 30.

She also ran an unsuccessful bid this year to become a board director at the North Orange County Community College District.

“The Brea Police Dept. — they’re a top quality police force. And I’m not saying that all police departments out there are, but ours is. She (Kropke) put herself in this situation. She is responsible for three times interfering with the police while they were doing their jobs,” Manley said. “She’s not a victim. She’s an instigator.”

Kropke denied claims she was being vulgar to officers during the June 30 protest, arguing she stayed on the sidewalk during the march, which she was attending with her child and dog.

“Who goes to raise hell with their 12-year-old dog and 8-year-old child to a peaceful protest? It defies credulity,” Kropke said. 

“I actually complimented one of the police officers. I told one of the female officers, ‘we need 29 of you,’ because she shepherded one kid who seemed to be living with a disability out of the street,” she added.

Kropke said the real source of the city’s ire against her stems largely from her stances on systemic racism and social justice. 

In 2019, she was the sole vote on the Brea Olinda school board against keeping the name of Fanning Elementary, whose eponym William E. Fanning was accused of being a Ku Klux Klan member in the 1920s. 

Fanning’s family and descendants denied the affiliation in a July 2 letter to the school board this year, though in that same letter requested the name be taken off the school due to its polarizing nature. The school board voted unanimously later that month to take the name off. 

Yet Kropke argued when she voted against the name the year before, the ensuing criticism against her illuminated the type of opposition that existed in Brea to her stances. 

She claims a political establishment and elected officials in the city expect all “to line up with them and on issues of race — I clearly don’t.” 

Manley dismissed the idea that the Fanning name change saga drove the contention plaguing Kropke and the city now: “To the Mayor and Police Chief, it’s nothing. Brea residents realize that’s just not true. It’s a complete red herring.”

Kropke argues this is all to discourage her from seeking higher office in the city: “I believe it’s specific and political in nature.” She added her reputation as an activist in the community puts the City Council “in direct opposition to who I am.”

“If you create bad press in this very pro-police community, and you seem like you’re anti-police, then it will be hard to redeem yourself in a community that thinks you are,” she added. “But I’m not anti-police. I’m anti-abuse. Those are different things.”

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