Warrant Details How Police Developed Bridge-Toss Suspect

POOL PHOTO COURTESY WFSB An iPhone found near the scene of a fight on the Derby-Shelton bridge led police to the suspect who allegedly threw a man into the Housatonic River on “Valley New Year.”

Detectives investigating the fight were also helped by cell phone videos from bystanders who recorded the assault.

The details come from an arrest warrant for Gregory Rottjer, a 25-year-old Derby man charged with attempted murder, first-degree assault, and first-degree reckless endangerment.

The victim in the case, a 30-year-old man who lives in New Haven, suffered a brain hemorrhage, hypothermia, and needed seven staples to close a wound in the back of his head after falling about 45 feet from the bridge into the river, according to the warrant.

Police say the man is recovering from his injuries.

The incident occurred the night before Thanksgiving, referred to locally as “Valley New Year,” an extremely busy night for bars in downtown Derby and Shelton.

The bridge connects the two downtowns.

Police arrested Rottjer Tuesday and held him on $250,000 bond for arraignment at Superior Court in Derby.

Two others charged with being involved — Rottjer’s friend, 27-year-old Matthew Dorso, of Ansonia, and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Jennifer Hannum — are scheduled to appear in Derby court Dec. 22, according to police.

Dorso is charged with third-degree assault. Hannum is charged with interfering with police.

The warrant, written by Shelton Detective Richard Bango, says Hannum lied to police investigating the fight and helped come up with a story in an effort to cover up her boyfriend and Dorso’s involvement.

Police, firefighters, and EMS responded to the area of the Derby-Shelton bridge about 12:50 a.m. Nov. 23 and found the victim in the river underneath.

An Echo Hose volunteer firefighter and Police Officer David Eldridge rescued the man, who was then taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The victim later told police he and his brother were walking from Bar None on Elizabeth Street in Derby to Center Street Social in Shelton when he saw a man arguing with a woman on the bridge. When he tried to make sure the woman was OK, the man attacked him and threw him into the river.

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As police began to investigate, a person who witnessed the assault gave them cell phone video depicting the fight between the victim and his brother against three other men, one of whom threw the victim over the bridge.

While at the scene the next day, a person who lives at the Birmingham condo building which overlooks the bridge also gave police video of the fight.

Both videos show the victim and his brother trying to retreat from the group of other men, according to the warrant.

Witnesses told police the men who had attacked the brothers had walked from the bridge toward Shelton afterward.

While searching the area, the warrant says police found an iPhone in the alley connecting the bridge and Canal Street, near the former Spongex building.

Police obtained a search warrant for the phone which revealed it belonged to Hannum.

The phone also had a text message from about 10 minutes after the fight on the bridge — from a contact marked “Future Husband.”

“Hi i am the owner of this i phone, please call me to be returned,” the message said.

Bango searched for the number the text came from and found it was listed as Rottjer’s, who lives on Derby’s Fourth Street, about a quarter-mile from the bridge.

There were also several pictures of Rottjer on the phone, one of which showed him wearing the same jacket he was allegedly wearing during the fight on the bridge.

The warrant says the victim identified Rottjer from a photo array prepared by police, saying he was 70 percent sure Rottjer was the man who had thrown him off the bridge.

Police searched Rottjer’s apartment Nov. 28 and found the jacket he was wearing at the time of the incident. During the search the warrant says Hannum was there but was “loud and not cooperative.”

She allegedly told police she was on the bridge at the time of the incident, but denied Rottjer had thrown the victim off the bridge. She said one of the men on the bridge had insulted her but that she walked away and didn’t know anything else.

Police interviewed Rottjer later that night.

At the beginning of the interview, he allegedly told police “I did it, I threw him over the bridge.”

According to the warrant, Rottjer told police he, Dorso, and Hannum had been drinking for about eight hours leading up to the incident.

He said they were at Bar None in Derby when Hannum realized she had lost her phone, and while walking over the bridge to Shelton to look for it, two men walking in the same direction insulted Hannum, and he started arguing with them.

The warrant says Rottjer depicted himself as the victim, and told police he was being attacked by both men only for Dorso to show up “in the nick of time.” He told police he threw the victim over the bridge in an effort to “eliminate a threat” after which he’d be able to help Dorso.

The warrant says Bango informed Rottjer that surveillance video showed him, Hannum, and Dorso walking past a Shelton police officer outside The Pub on Howe after the incident, and asked if he thought of telling the officer about the fight.

Rottjer “replied he did not because he thought the man was going to live. Rottjer stated at the moment he did not feel bad for the man,” the warrant says.

He allegedly told Bango that “after a few days he thought he got away with it . . . once he heard the guy lived he put it out of his mind.”

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In court Tuesday, Judge Karen Sequino ordered Rottjer held on $250,000 bond and transferred the case to Superior Court in Milford, which handles the area’s most serious criminal matters.

Rottjer is scheduled to appear there Wednesday.

Paul Gusmano, a lawyer who represented Rottjer in court Tuesday, declined to comment on case, saying he hadn’t yet reviewed the arrest warrant.


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