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

CROSS PLAINS, Wis. — The former Dane County Sheriff’s deputy who was fired following a reported incident in Festge Park may have been intoxicated when she fired her weapon, and fabricated the events of the incident, newly-released records from the Sheriff’s Office show.

Sarah Bortz-Rodriguez was fired last November after an internal investigation found that she violated both the Dane County Civil Service Work Rules and the sheriff’s office code of conduct. Her termination was publicized in February.

Initially, Bortz-Rodriguez said that she fired her gun after being stabbed by an unknown subject in Festge Park on October 21.

RELATED: Deputy fired in alleged incident at Festge Park violated code of conduct

Records obtained by News 3 Now on Tuesday detail the events of October 21, the subsequent investigation, and Bortz-Rodriguez’s termination.

Bortz-Rodriguez goes to Festge Park

Bortz-Rodriguez made a public safety statement on October 21 at 10:05 p.m., after she was taken to the ER. In the statement, she said she fired her gun after a man wearing a black hoodie, dark-colored pants, and a Jason Voorhees-like mask attacked her with a box cutter. She said the suspect ran east-west after the incident, but then corrected herself to say he ran south-west.

Records show that Bortz-Rodriguez went to Festge Park around 8:11 p.m. on October 21. At 8:16 p.m., she told dispatch that she would be checking on a person who was wearing a mask and sitting at a picnic table in the park. At 8:17 p.m., Bortz-Rodriguez reported to dispatchers that she had fired her weapon and had been stabbed.

Multiple deputies responded to the park, and Bortz-Rodriguez was given medical attention. Statements from responding deputies indicate that she had suffered injuries to both forearms and one of her hands.

Deputies sent out K9 units to search for the suspect but found no evidence of anyone in the area. However, a K9 unit did find a box cutter in the grassy area near a picnic table. Law enforcement continued to search for the suspect throughout the night, using drones, K9 units, and tactical teams.

In a letter dated October 21, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett placed Bortz-Rodriguez on administrative leave with pay because she fired her weapon, but said that the action should not be construed as discipline.

Evidence from Festge Park was turned over to the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation, which led an investigation into the incident. That investigation reportedly revealed discrepancies between Bortz-Rodriguez’s statements and the evidence that was collected at the scene.

DCI agents spoke with Bortz-Rodriguez on October 28 and November 1, and she maintained her story. In a notice, Sheriff Barrett said the statements she provided contradicted physical evidence and squad video.

An Administrative Hearing

In a letter dated November 2, Bortz-Rodriguez was ordered to appear at an administrative hearing scheduled for November 5. The subject of the hearing would be her actions and conduct, which allegedly included not being truthful regarding the events at Festge Park and acting unethically.

Records show that Bortz-Rodriguez initially did not change her story at the hearing, however, after being shown that her statements did not line up with the evidence she did eventually change her story.

She said that on October 21 she drove around to try and calm herself after a critical incident review at the precinct. She eventually went to an area near Riley’s Tavern and consumed something, although the substance was not specified. She then decided to go to Festge Park, though she said she didn’t feel safe driving.

When she arrived at the park she said that the thing she had consumed had taken effect, and she felt like she may have been intoxicated or impaired. She said during the hearing that she believed that she saw someone, but may have “hallucinated.” Despite potentially being impaired, she fired her gun once and was scared, believing she had shot herself.

When asked whether she cut herself, Bortz-Rodriguez reportedly said it was possible. She also said the box cutter found at the scene may have been from her squad bag. She reportedly reiterated that she may have hallucinated the entire incident.

Notice of Termination

In a letter dated November 17, Bortz-Rodriguez was notified of her termination. Sheriff Barrett recounted the initial events of October 21, as well as the Administrative Hearing on November 5.

Barrett wrote that, in his belief, Bortz-Rodriguez mixed and consumed a substance while on duty, which made her feel intoxicated or impaired. She then drove to Festge Park in this state. Barrett believed that she injured herself using a box cutter that was in her squad bag.

Barrett also found it likely that she fabricated the encounter, and said that evidence does not support her claim that she encountered another person at the park. He said that she fired her gun without justification while in a self-described intoxicated/impaired and emotional state. He said that she provided, and repeated, false information to officials investigating information and during the administrative hearing.

Barrett concluded that Bortz-Rodriguez violated the Sheriff’s Office Code of Conduct pertaining to ethical behavior, conformance to laws, unbecoming conduct, insubordination, truthfulness, and performance.

She was also found to have violated the county’s Civil Service Employee Work Rules pertaining to work performance, use of property, and personal actions and appearance.

Barrett called her actions “extremely concerning on a number of levels” and said she demonstrated poor judgment.

“Honesty, Integrity and Knowledge are essential traits all law enforcement officers must demonstrate,” Barrett said. “Your actions showed great disrespect for these qualities.”

The Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation conducted a separate investigation into the incident. That investigation concluded last month, and the results were sent to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s office. However, those results have not yet been publicized.