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Tarrant County deputy fatally shot girlfriend and claimed it was a suicide, police say

Jay Allen Rotter, 36, called 911 about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 26, saying the woman killed herself, police say.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. Sept. 15: Revised to details from an arrest-warrant affidavit.

A Tarrant County sheriff’s deputy is facing charges of murder and evidence tampering in the death of his girlfriend, Denton police said Monday.

Jay Allen Rotter, 36, called 911 about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 26, saying his girlfriend had shot herself, police said. When officers arrived at the home in the 2400 block of Robinwood Lane, they found the woman dead inside.

The victim, who was identified by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office as Leslie Lynn Hartman, 46, and Rotter were the only people living at the home, police said. Medical examiner’s records say Hartman’s cause of death is still pending.

In the 911 call, Rotter identified himself as an officer and said he used to work as a 911 operator, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit. He said he was hugging his girlfriend when she shot herself in the head, police wrote in the affidavit. Hartman was paralyzed and used a wheelchair, police said.

Rotter said he “would have stopped ... [the shooting] if he could have,” according to the document.

But evidence at the scene didn’t match Rotter’s story, and authorities found chat logs Rotter sent the night of the shooting that indicated he shot Hartman, according to the affidavit.

When Denton police interviewed Rotter, a detective asked whether he could take Rotter’s phone to download its contents. Rotter declined, and when two detectives stepped out of the interview room, he took his phone out of his pocket and set it back to its factory settings, according to the affidavit.

Police got a search warrant to download the contents of Rotter’s computer, where they found messages Rotter sent on the chat service Discord the night of the shooting.

Shortly after 11 p.m., Rotter sent a message about shooting a milk bottle in the backyard. A neighbor’s security footage also picked up the sound of the gunshot, and the milk bottle was found in the trash with a bullet hole through it, police said.

About 11:15 p.m., the chat log showed that Rotter and Hartman were arguing over his firing the gun in the backyard, police wrote in the affidavit.

A minute later, Rotter sent a message that authorities said referred to shooting Hartman: “I just sent a 9 millie in this [expletive] hippie."

Police also searched Hartman’s cellphone and wrote in the affidavit that she “does not suggest she is feeling depressed or suicidal.”

She had been texting with a friend that day and mentioned that Rotter “was in a ‘mood’ and would need to sort himself out,” referring to drugs he was taking. Her last text message, sent about 20 minutes before Rotter’s 911 call, was about recent unexpected rain and “how gorgeous it was,” according to the affidavit.

Rotter was arrested Monday. He was booked into the Denton County Jail, where his bail is set at $1,150,000. It’s unclear from county records whether he has an attorney.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said in a written statement Monday that his office was “shocked and saddened about the incident and arrest of Jay Rotter.”

“We have very little information regarding the situation at this time," he said. “We believe in the criminal justice process and the truth will prevail.”

Rotter has worked for the Tarrant County sheriff’s office since 2005 and was assigned to the narcotics division. The sheriff said his department was cooperating with Denton police and referred questions about the case to them.

Dana Branham, Breaking news reporter. Dana is a reporter at The Dallas Morning News covering crime and breaking news. She graduated in 2017 from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied journalism. Before coming to The News in 2018, Dana interned at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Tulsa World.

dana.branham@dallasnews.com danabranham
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