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Spleen Man

David Hans Schmidt cackles gleefully every time he sees the 13-inch surgical scar down the belly of Jefferson Davis McGee. It's just such a great visual: Here's this 21st-century American with what looks like a Civil War triage scar. Combine that with McGee's perpetually bewildered "what just happened to me?"...
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David Hans Schmidt cackles gleefully every time he sees the 13-inch surgical scar down the belly of Jefferson Davis McGee.

It's just such a great visual: Here's this 21st-century American with what looks like a Civil War triage scar. Combine that with McGee's perpetually bewildered "what just happened to me?" expression and you've got some rich martyr mojo for the jury.

But Schmidt doesn't want this to reach a jury. He's a deal maker, not a lawyer. He ain't Johnnie Cochran, he's the guy who created the deals to get Tonya Harding and Paula Jones and a few other momentary female celebrities buck naked in major skin magazines.

But Schmidt may now have a new cottage industry -- pre-litigation personal-injury brokering. Last week, Schmidt asked county officials to give McGee $6.5 million. If they didn't, Schmidt would shell the county with attorneys and daily television images of how poor Jefferson Davis McGee got throttled in county jail and then gutted in county hospital.

As McGee's agent, Schmidt would make $1.5 million, a slim 23 percent of the take.

Apparently, Schmidt is the only promoter/agent in America trying such a stunt. Apparently, as long as Schmidt doesn't try to represent McGee in court, there is no law barring such a stunt.

It would appear, too, that the county is willing to deal with the terrorist -- sort of.

Schmidt says a county risk-management official countered with an offer of $2,000. County officials wouldn't discuss the negotiations.

Offended with the offer, Schmidt, as promised, has loosened his cannon and begun his PR march to the sea.

Getting lost in this battle is Jefferson Davis McGee, whose passive narrative of woe basically goes like this:

In late May, McGee was brought in for questioning in the rape and murder of 8-year-old Elizabeth Byrd, who lived nearby. After an extensive interrogation, he was put in county jail on an outstanding warrant on petty theft charges.

He was put in maximum security, which is usually reserved only for former convicts, known gang members and people charged with the most violent felonies.

One night, as inmates watched the NBA playoffs, a television news promo stated that McGee was an "investigative lead" in the murder. Inmates translated that into "child molester," or, in jail tongue, "Chomo," the rabid dog in the hard-time inmate code of ethics. They walked into McGee's cell and worked in three-man shifts to beat him delirious.

McGee describes the scene:

"Three guys come in my cell, look at my ID and say, 'Are you Jefferson McGee?' I was eating dinner, I had my mouth full of food. I said, 'Yeah, what's up?' Then they hold me up, one guy at a time going at me, boom, boom, boom. Then they kind of get tired, so another three guys come in and have their time with me. I thought to myself, how much more can I take?"

McGee woke up in the county hospital with an angry scar running from his solar plexus to his pubic bone. He was told his spleen had been removed.

Then the cops found the real killer. Then McGee got sent back to the jail infirmary because he didn't have $250 to bond out on the petty theft charges.

David Hans Schmidt, then just out of jail for what now appear to be inflated charges of abusing his daughter, read about McGee. He wondered why detention officers didn't put him in protective custody, knowing that child molesters always get beat up by inmates.

Schmidt believes officers fed McGee to the wolves.

So Schmidt bonded McGee out. To Schmidt's delight, every television news crew in the Valley arrived as he escorted a shirtless McGee from jail.

The afternoon summer sun glistened on McGee's surgical staples. On television, the wound looked like a long, glowing strip of model railroad track.

And McGee, gaunt, weary, longhaired, innocent and gutted, looked like Jesus Christ slouching toward the crucifixion.

"I said, 'Thank you, God!'" Schmidt yells as he reaches skyward, Moses-like, in his living room during a recent interview. "It was absolutely gorgeous!"

Martyrdom traditionally requires calm dignity in the face of tortuous injustice. Jefferson Davis McGee, a quiet, basically homeless part-time lawn mower, makes a serviceable martyr until he's in a room with David Hans Schmidt.

Schmidt, conversely, is the anti-martyr, a perpetually roiling mass of gleeful hubris, avarice, chutzpah, vindictiveness, irreverence and Porsche-driving alpha male predaciousness.

In dealing with his own ferocious custody battle that spawned questionable charges of harassment and abuse against him, Schmidt has come to hate the county. He hates Phoenix PD and the sheriff's office and the County Attorney's Office. He hates the media but sees them as a necessary evil.

Besides, he wants to run for governor. He has a book to promote. He loves a buck and could use some cash.

Typical David Hans Schmidt motivations, he admits. But he swears that all this got started with genuine empathy and a humane belief that Jefferson McGee got screwed.

Whatever the motivations, Schmidt has created what may be a whole new breed of agent.

Here's the idea:

Human-rights violations, especially in Joe Arpaio's jail, are a serious growth industry.

Attorneys sometimes charge as much as 40 percent plus costs to represent Americans who have been gored by cops, jailers or doctors.

In reality, though, most cases get settled with cities, counties and states before trial. Deals get cut.

You don't need a law degree to make deals. You need a law degree to go to trial.

Schmidt, love him or hate him, is a master deal maker, apparently thanks to his ignorance of the lawyerly techniques of restraint.

So, for 23 percent instead of 40 percent of the cut, you give Schmidt durable power of attorney and Schmidt will make one of his killer deals for you with government risk-management officials.

If government won't cut a deal, Schmidt, the publicity machete, will publicly attack government officials while lining up his shark attorney buddies for a much more lucrative civil suit.

"What I'm doing is groundbreaking. The fact is, to be a good deal maker, what you need is brains and balls. And most lawyers don't have either one.

"I want to have a commercial: 'At Schmidt and Schmidt, we charge only 23 percent. We don't even talk to asshole lawyers unless we go to court.' People can make more for their pain and suffering because the lawyers won't be there gouging them."

He may not need commercials. Already he has been given durable power of attorney by another inmate whose arm was mangled allegedly because of shoddy jail and hospital care in Yavapai County.

The first guinea pig for this new cottage industry is Jefferson Davis McGee. Schmidt talked McGee into signing over power of attorney to him.

"I'm basically him," Schmidt says.

Schmidt then gave a notice of claim to Maricopa County's risk-management team. He claims the sheriff's office was negligent for not putting McGee in protective custody, then negligent for not stopping the protracted gang-beating.

Arpaio countered that the blame for the beating should be on the people who did it.

Schmidt also argues that McGee was given substandard medical treatment, leaving him with a huge scar where most splenectomies leave a four-inch scar.

But to walk loudly, Schmidt needed a big stick. He says numerous attorneys approached him about handling litigation if negotiation failed.

He wanted the best, though. So he claims he approached Johnnie Cochran and Arizona's own Michael Manning.

Cochran was too busy, Schmidt says. And that foiled his dream of a courtroom scene in which Cochran could exclaim:

"If the man has no spleen, you must give him some green!"

Manning, Schmidt says, claims he had a conflict because of a contract with the county.

Manning, perhaps Arizona's most respected trial attorney because of his successful battles with Charles Keating, Fife Symington and Joe Arpaio, says the county contract was not the reason he avoided the case.

"Mr. McGee has a very good claim," Manning says. "My reservations have nothing to do with the nature of the claim. At the end of the day, I was concerned with the fairness of what Mr. McGee would receive . . . in the deal proposed by Mr. Schmidt."

Schmidt is coy about his cut in the deal if attorneys must also be brought in for trial.

Also, Manning says he was concerned that Schmidt's "own issues with the county were unduly influencing [Schmidt's] analysis of Mr. McGee," referring to Schmidt's anger over his own child-abuse and harassment charges.

Nonetheless, Schmidt says he has plenty of lawyers waiting to pounce.

Good money says that's what will have to happen. Counties aren't too progressive in promoting new ways to raid their coffers. And Schmidt has already begun infuriating county officials.

In a blustery, incendiary and profoundly entertaining press release last week, Schmidt claimed the risk-management adjuster assigned to his case, David Unks, told him, "The dumb transient probably had it coming to him."

Risk-management officials deny Unks ever said it.

When questioned about the quote's veracity, Schmidt said: "Unks can't prove he didn't say it."

Schmidt, in Bob Dole-esque third person, also wrote: "Unks told Schmidt: 'We'll give McGee $2,000 to go away.' Aghast, Schmidt almost fell off his chair."

Schmidt described the offer as "the price you'd pay for two Vegas hookers for having your name, image and likeness erroneously plastered over the airwaves for the most heinous crime a man can commit."

This is hardball, Schmidt style.

More press releases are forthcoming. Schmidt promises they will be increasingly provocative. The person who suffers most will probably be the county's public information officer, Al Macias.

"What's ugly about this is that there is a very serious issue at the heart of all this," Macias says.

That would be the brutal murder of Elizabeth Byrd.

Schmidt dutifully calms his cavalier bravado when Byrd's name is mentioned. Schmidt says he wants the county to build a bike path in her name. He wants the county to provide busing services for little girls in south Phoenix so they "can get to school without getting murdered."

Noble ideas.

Sick gimmicks coming from Schmidt's mouth, his detractors say.

The other serious issue would be the guts of Jefferson Davis McGee.

McGee says he has been "kicking it with friends during the day, sleeping wherever I can at night." His chest hurts, the scar feels like a fat tube of cartilage running down his front. He can't drink beer anymore, arguably a good thing. Without his spleen, his blood won't be properly filtered. He may feel drained and be more susceptible to disease for the rest of his life.

He had wanted to start a full-blown lawn-mowing business. That'll have to wait.

In the interim, Schmidt is floating him some money to get by.

But why? What are Schmidt's motives? Isn't that the issue?

Maybe not, since the only man who needs to care about Schmidt's motivations doesn't.

"I don't know why he's doing all this," McGee says in his slow drawl. "Justice? Maybe the dude wants to see justice done. I don't know.

"The fact is, he helped me," McGee says. "Nobody else did. I needed help and he did it. So I don't care that much about all the whys and all that. I just care that he did it."

For McGee's next court appearance, Schmidt wants McGee to wear a rack of deer antlers. He was gutted like a deer, Schmidt says. He should look like a deer.

Late last week, Schmidt visited the downtown library to research books on deer hunting. Near the back of one book, he found a photo of two men posing by their freshly gutted prize buck.

Schmidt was elated. The two men show a delightful resemblance to the two backwoodsmen who pig-raped Ned Beatty in Deliverance.

Schmidt then ran to a print shop to create posters merging the hunters with pictures of his client. It's a poster depicting Arizona justice, he says.

"Brilliant, eh?"

McGee, considering the gutted deer analogy, nods his head in approval:

"Yeah," he says. "That would be pretty funny."

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