Complaint: Former Dane Co. deputy’s dashcam caught her faking Festge Park incident

MADISON, Wis. — A former Dane County Sheriff’s Office deputy is now facing criminal charges after being accused of fabricating an encounter in Festge Park that led to her firing her gun last year.

Sarah Bortz-Rodriguez was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office said Monday. The criminal charge comes after an investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigations into the events of October 21, 2021.

RELATED: Deputy fired in Festge Park incident was intoxicated, fabricated encounter, records show

Deputies respond to shots fired

According to a criminal complaint filed with the Dane County Circuit Court, multiple officers went to the park after Bortz-Rodriguez issued a “shots fired” call over police radio. Her squad car was found on a paved road south of the northern parking lot at the park.

A deputy reportedly found Bortz-Rodriguez curled up in the rear driver’s seat of the car with the door closed and her gun holstered. She was removed from the car. The deputy later described her as “hysterical.” She had tears in her long-sleeved shirt and cuts on her left mid-forearm and right wrist.

The complaint alleges that Bortz-Rodriguez said she was stabbed with a box cutter by a man in the park wearing a white mask and black hoodie. She said the suspect ran into the woods after the stabbing. Deputies did not see anyone in the park when they arrived but did find a box cutter in the grass to the west of where Borzt-Rodriguez’s car was parked.

It was later determined that Bortz-Rodriguez suffered one cut to the outside of her right forearm, two cuts to the outside of her right hand, and two cuts to the outside of her left forearm.

Processing evidence

Deputies searched Festge Park the morning after the incident was reported. According to the complaint, a black and green Nitrile glove, a cigarette butt, and a Stanley FatMax folding utility knife had already been recovered on the night of the incident. A weapon and uniform inspection had also shown that Bortz-Rodriguez fired one shot from her gun on October 21.

A metal detector was used to find a fired cartridge case near where the incident was reported to have taken place. That casing matched the bullet that would have been shot by Bortz-Rodriguez.

Bortz-Rodriguez and deputies revisit Festge Park

On October 22, deputies performed a walkthrough with Bortz-Rodriguez at the park, where she recounted what she said happened during the incident. According to the complaint, she said that she had gone to the park in order to complete reports towards the end of her shift. She had reportedly done this in the past, about 2 or 3 times per month.

While she was driving around the park, Bortz-Rodriguez said she saw someone sitting at a picnic table on the west side of the paved road, south of the playground, and the person was wearing a mask. She said that she radioed dispatchers to let them know she would be checking on the person.

According to the complaint, Bortz-Rodriguez said she pointed her flashlight at the masked person, which seemed to startle them. They then got up and approached her. Bortz-Rodriguez described the person as a 6-foot-tall man wearing dark clothes and a white hockey mask “like Jason.” She claimed that the man did not say anything and only grunted.

She said she couldn’t see if the man had anything in his hands when he approached her, so she did not draw her weapon. She claimed he then stabbed her with what she said was a box cutter. She said that she tried to protect herself by raising her arms in front of her head and face before scuffling with the man.

According to the complaint, Bortz-Rodriguez said that she was able to gain some space between herself and the man during the struggle, at which point she drew her gun and fired. At that point, she said the man dropped the box-cutter and ran into the woods. She then ran back to her squad car but tripped and fell on the paved road. She said that she stayed on the ground for about five seconds before the voice of a dispatcher over her radio snapped her out of “it.”

Squad car video captures deputy cutting her own sleeves, no man in the park

According to the complaint, video footage was obtained from Bortz-Rodriguez’s squad car that shows a portion of the incident. A picnic table mentioned by Bortz-Rodriguez can be seen in the footage, but nobody is seen sitting at it.

Once the car is stopped, she can be seen moving into view, pointing her lit flashlight at the ground as she walked. She is then seen stopping near a section of trees while shining her flashlight on the ground in front of her.

The complaint alleges that Bortz-Rodriguez then walked toward the paved road in front of her car, got down on her knees, and moved back and forth in a sawing motion while reaching over her left forearm.

She then walked towards the front of her car with her flashlight in hand, raised her right hand to her chest and appeared to speak. She then moved out of the view of the camera. Moments later, the camera captured red and blue lights coming from other squad cars arriving at the scene.

Bortz-Rodriguez speaks to investigators

Bortz-Rodriguez spoke with detectives on October 28. According to the complaint, she said that she believed in her “heart and in her head” that the events of October 21 played out exactly how she had already told investigators.

She told investigators that in May or June of 2020, she was involved in an incident where a suspect tried to take her gun from its holster while she was assisting another deputy. She said that the Sheriff’s Office did not deem the incident as critical, nobody checked on her and she was not given time off. She said she was later blamed for what happened during the incident.

She said she was “off” for one or two months following the incident and her mental health declined. According to the complaint, Bortz-Rodriguez was put on administrative leave in August of 2020. She said that she applied for worker’s compensation, citing that she was suffering from work-related PTSD, but that claim was denied. She returned to work in January of 2021.

The complaint alleges that she reiterated her original story of what happened on October 21, 2021, and said that if the evidence did not back up her story that she “would know there was something wrong in her head.”

She once again recounted the events of the incident but said that she stopped pursuing the alleged suspect after she realized that she had lost her flashlight and was surrounded by darkness.

‘Obvious discrepancies in her story’

According to the complaint, detectives determined that Bortz-Rodriguez’s story did not line up with the evidence they had obtained. They spoke to her about the discrepancies and she reportedly cooperated, saying that she also wanted to know what really happened.

She was not able to identify the suspect. When detectives asked her if she remembered cutting her own sleeves, she said she did not remember, adding that she probably would never fully remember the incident.

One of the detectives said he could prove Bortz-Rodriguez was lying because she said she had lost her flashlight before returning to her squad car, when video evidence showed she had not. In response, she reportedly said that she believed the detectives.

Detectives then alleged that Bortz-Rodriguez pre-planned the entire event and asked if she actually fired her gun at the park or if she staged the empty casing, to which she said that she did fire the gun. She said that she did not know where the knife used in the incident came from and said she did not remember staging the knife at the scene, but did not deny doing so, either. She reiterated that she could not completely remember what happened that night.

The complaint alleges that Bortz-Rodriguez said she kept a box cutter in her squad bag to help cut zip ties or seat belts. She said she was concerned about how her mind would react to seeing the box cutter used in the incident in case she recognized it as her own.

A second interview

On November 1, investigators spoke to Bortz-Rodriguez again. The complaint alleges that she admitted to experimenting with holistic and over-the-counter medications during her time away from duty. On October 21, she allegedly took 15 pills of Dextromethorphan at 1 a.m. because she could not sleep well. She also took a prescribed amount of Adderall before her work shift later that day.

Bortz-Rodriguez said she did not feel well during her shift briefing at 3 p.m. that day and left the precinct as soon as she could.

The complaint alleges that at the end of the interview, she said that it was a real possibility that she cut herself at the park but she did not remember doing so.

Bortz-Rodriguez was fired last November after an internal investigation determined that she may have been intoxicated when she fired her weapon and fabricated the events of the incident.

“The actions of this former deputy do not represent the culture of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said in a statement. “As your Sheriff, I want to assure our citizens and our staff that we will follow the law where it leads us.”

During an initial appearance Monday, the court issued a not guilty plea to any misdemeanor counts and Bortz-Rodriguez’s signature bond was set at $500 per case.