By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
In late June, David Hans Schmidt placed a birthday card on the grave of his infant son Ben, who died eight years ago at birth.
A month later, New Timeswrote about Schmidt's rollicking campaign to milk $6.5 million in damages from the county for Jefferson Davis McGee, who had his spleen removed after a protracted drubbing by inmates in county jail who wrongly believed he was a child killer.
Schmidt, marginally famous for brokering deals to get Tonya Harding and Paula Jones topless in nudie magazines, savaged county officials in the New Times story, then posed for the accompanying photo shirtless wielding a medieval battle ax.
He was Braveheart, the County Hunter.
Instead, the hunter became the hunted.
A few days after the story appeared, Phoenix police arrested Schmidt at gunpoint on charges of felony "aggravated domestic violence." His crime: leaving the card on his son's grave the month before.
Clearly, Schmidt is not an angel. He is renowned for his verbal abusiveness. He got caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia back in 1999.
Schmidt and his attorney, though, say this most recent belated arrest is retaliation for Schmidt's representation of McGee and his rabid verbal attacks on police and county officials.
The catalyst for this retaliation, they say, is the mother of Schmidt's two daughters, with whom Schmidt is embroiled in a ferocious custody battle.
Before the card incident, that custody battle already had spawned three curious charges of harassment and abuse against him.
Then, on June 25, the mother of his two daughters told police the birthday card frightened her because Schmidt wrote on the envelope: "To be opened by Ben's sisters."
The day after Schmidt's arrest, August 1, a judge, apparently unimpressed with the card's criminality, released Schmidt from jail on his own recognizance.
The Maricopa County Attorney then obtained a grand jury indictment and had Schmidt rearrested on the same charge. Deputy county attorney Susan Brnovich described Schmidt's list of violations of visitation orders laid out in the couple's domestic relations case. The violations, called "domestic violence offenses," were actually cases of Schmidt calling his daughters a few minutes later than the times ordered in the custody proceedings.
A second judge agreed with prosecutors and police to hold Schmidt without bond in maximum security at Madison Street Jail.
Schmidt's attorney, Jason Lamm, says Schmidt has been targeted by an overzealous cop. He also believes the county attorney has a conflict in the case because of Schmidt's representation of McGee against the county.
"They're out to get him," Lamm says.
"These guys are trying to break me, but it isn't going to work," Schmidt says in a jailhouse interview. "They're just making it worse for themselves."
Schmidt's sordid tale is less Braveheart, more a three-ring War of the Roses. He represented McGee, in part, to get a platform to blast Phoenix police and the County Attorney's Office for their handling of accusations made by the mother of his two daughters.
Schmidt was arrested in April on a charge of felony abuse for allegedly hurting his 11-year-old daughter's toe during a late March visitation at his home.
Schmidt apparently was stretching his daughter's toes, which had caused her problems after years of ice skating. The girls' mother say Schmidt wouldn't stop pulling and popping the girl's toes after his daughter asked him to stop.
Phoenix Police Detective Stephanie Gombar testified to a grand jury on April 17 that a doctor who examined the girl "stated that at first he believed it was a fracture and possibly a fracture in the growth plate of the foot," then told the jurors that x-rays confirming the theory hadn't been released.
The grand jury handed down an indictment and Schmidt spent the next few months in county jail.
In fact, the doctors who had examined the girl had faxed their findings to Gombar on March 27, three weeks before her testimony. Their x-rays showed no fractures. Indeed, the doctors both stated in affidavits they would have testified to the grand jury that the only problems with the girl's feet were much earlier injuries apparently caused by skating.
Gombar also testified that Child Protective Services believed the abuse story. But later, on June 20, CPS officials sent Schmidt and his attorney a letter saying CPS had found the allegations against him to be without merit.
Based on these facts, Schmidt's attorney has a motion to dismiss the charges waiting in Superior Court. And Schmidt wants the girls' mother arrested for false allegations of child abuse.
Last month, Schmidt filed a complaint with the Phoenix Police's Professional Standards Board (internal affairs) regarding Gombar, who he believes is targeting him.
Gombar refused to discuss the case with New Times.
Out of jail, Schmidt began rebuilding his public relations business. In June, he began arranging what he says will be his biggest deal ever.
On June 22, Schmidt bought a birthday card to lay on the grave of his son, who lived just one day after being born severely premature.
Visiting the infant's grave had been a family tradition before Schmidt and the mother of his children separated.
Schmidt says he placed the card on the grave the day before the infant's birthday because Schmidt had to fly to Los Angeles to discuss one of his deals and, also, because he didn't want to risk a chance meeting with the mother. He wanted his daughters to open the card, he says, because he didn't want a caretaker or anyone else to open it first.
Gombar and other detectives described the card in their report:
"The front of the card was a colored picture with birds and flowers and the writing, which said: 'Wow, you're eight.'
"The inside left flap of the card contained the following handwritten message:
"'Ben, as you rest with God, daddy wants you to know that rarely a day passes that your earthly family doesn't think about you. Mommy and big sissy and little sissy (and Spanky) love you more than anything . . . as does dad. I wish you were here, my son, to take over what your daddy has started. I will see you in heaven. Tell God daddy is trying.
"'I will always talk proudly about my son. All my love, daddy.'"
The children's mother took the card to police on June 25, believing it was a violation of the custody provisions. The police took the report, but made no effort to either interview or arrest Schmidt.
On July 9, Schmidt filed a notice of claim for McGee with the county.
Schmidt asked for millions; the county offered $2,500.
Schmidt responded with tirades and a poster that likened McGee to a field-dressed buck and county officials to a bunch of mouth-breathing thugs.
The story of Schmidt's war appeared in New TimesJuly 26.
The next Tuesday, Schmidt was arrested at gunpoint after returning from another business trip to Los Angeles. He was taken to county jail.
On Wednesday, August 1, Schmidt and his attorney were to meet with Phoenix police internal affairs detectives to discuss Gombar's alleged misconduct in the investigation of Schmidt.
Tuesday night, July 31, Gombar called one of the internal affairs detectives and explained to him that the meeting with Schmidt would be off because Schmidt had just been arrested.
Later that night, a magistrate at the jail released Schmidt on his own recognizance.
When Lamm called internal affairs detectives the next morning after picking up Schmidt from jail, "detectives said they had been told by Gombar of the arrest and that the meeting would not go on as scheduled," Lamm says.
"I told them, 'No, Mr. Schmidt is sitting right next to me. The meeting is still on,'" Lamm says.
"You have the subject of an internal investigation calling investigators to tell them the investigation is off because she just arrested the guy who was the key witness in the investigation of her," Lamm says. "Do you see anything wrong with this picture?"
(Internal affairs officers apparently didn't see anything wrong. Late last week they cleared Gombar of any wrongdoing.)
On August 7, Schmidt was again arrested on the same charge. Gombar was the arresting detective.
This time, a different magistrate granted the state's request to have Schmidt held without bond.
Then, Joe Arpaio personally ordered that Schmidt be placed in protective custody.
The reason given: Schmidt was a high-profile inmate. And, since Schmidt was associated with McGee, some inmates might beat up Schmidt because he was a friend of a man who had been an investigative lead in the Byrd murder.
Schmidt and his attorney don't buy it.
"It's payback," Lamm says.
For Schmidt, protective custody meant being locked in a cell alone for 23 hours of the day. It's euphemized solitary confinement.
After two days, Schmidt was moved into general jail population hours after several calls to Maricopa County Sheriff's Office command staff from his attorney and a New Times reporter.
Now Lamm has filed a series of motions in an effort to get the case dismissed, or at least to get the Maricopa County Attorney removed from the case.
Lamm says the county attorney has a conflict because the County Counsel division of the County Attorney's Office, acting on behalf of Maricopa County, made the $2,500 counteroffer to McGee in response to McGee's claim.
Bill FitzGerald, spokesman for the County Attorney's Office, says there is no conflict because the McGee settlement is being handled by the office's civil division, while the case against Schmidt is being handled by the criminal division.
"They are completely separate," he says.
However, Lamm points out that a motion to quash the case made by the county attorney's civil division on behalf of MCSO was copied to Brnovich, the criminal prosecutor in Schmidt's case, and filed under the criminal case number.
The motions will be heard by Superior Court Judge Peter Reinstein on August 31.
Until then, Schmidt will sit in maximum security at Madison Street Jail.
In a recent interview, Schmidt looked disheveled and tired. He has been moved several times. He said he had gotten only two hours of sleep in the previous four days.
Still, somehow, he was upbeat, boisterous and ferociously defiant.
He's happy with his cellmate and the other inmates in his pod. He says he's going to read War and Peace. He's written 80 more pages of his book that he's writing about his jail experience. Schmidt says he's been treated like a hero by fellow inmates for helping McGee.
He'll be fine, he says.
And once he is released, he says, he looks forward to continuing to get naked semi-celebrities pictured in magazines and building his new business of receiving 23 percent commissions for helping wronged inmates receive reparations from cities and counties.
He quoted Kafka and his philosophy professor back in Minnesota regarding injustice. He says he has much more ammunition for the lawsuits he says will be launched in numerous directions.
"They've dishonored the dead with what they've done," he says. "It's sick and pathetic. But this is how they operate. Felony birthday cards. But I still have faith that this won't be allowed to stand. I still have faith you can't set people up and throw them in jail forever in this country. But maybe I'm wrong."