Former Marquette Co. deputy appears in court after video alleges child sex crimes

Published: Apr. 8, 2022 at 6:48 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 8, 2022 at 6:51 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The former Marquette Co. deputy who was recorded on video allegedly admitting he tried to solicit sexual activities from the person he thought was an underage boy was reportedly drunk and suicidal in the hours between the livestreamed encounter and his arrest.

A video, obtained exclusively by NBC15 News, showed Travis Bittelman meeting with the two individuals who impersonated a 14-year-old boy for more than a week before meeting with him in a Westfield parking lot. Courtney Engelke and her video editor Chris livestreamed what happened next.

Through the course of the ensuing half-hour, Courtney and Chris, who run the “Courtney Elizxbeth” YouTube channel, pressed Bittelman on the chats and their meeting that day. In the video, which the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Bittelman is the individual recorded, he admitted the conversations were inappropriate, but argued they were not illegal. Upon being asked if the three of them should go see if the Marquette Co. Sheriff’s Office, where Bittelman worked, thought it was illegal, he demurred “because it’s not morally right.”

After the Marquette Co. Sheriff’s Office learned one of its deputies may have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with a minor on Tuesday, it reached out to the Columbia Co. Sheriff’s Office, as an outside agency, to investigate, the complaint detailed.

The complaint was filed after Bittelman made his first court appearance on Friday. His bond was set at $25,000, with multiple restrictions involving minors, firearms, and the use of social media ordered should he be released. A date for an initial hearing was not set because a judge has not been assigned to the case.

Travis Bittelman
Travis Bittelman(Columbia Co. Sheriff's Office)

According to the criminal complaint when the Columbia Co. detective arrived, he was told Bittelman had already been taken into custody. It states a 911 call alerted the Marquette Co. Sheriff’s Office that its now-former deputy had been drinking. He was also reported to be suicidal and in possession of a firearm.

The detective tracked down an individual the complaint refers to as “Witness #1,” who claimed to be the person who had been in contact with Bittelman and confirmed there was not an actual 14-year-old involved and that the witness had been impersonating one. The individual also provided chat logs, portions of which were included in the criminal complaint.

The following day, the witness met with a Columbia Co. lieutenant to offer a fuller account of the nature of the chats. The individual stated a belief that Bittelman refused to acknowledge the age of the person with whom he thought he was chatting, until confronted with it directly. The enclosed chats show that Bittelman had been told nearly immediately. However, his replies indicated surprise five days later upon being told again. The listed message shift tone at that point from Bittelman discussing explicitly sexual activities between them to activities involving underwear belonging the supposed teen’s mother and activities he would do in another room.

The witness turned over chat logs and screenshots from March 25 through March 30, but told investigators that the subsequent ones through the day they met with Bittelman in person were deleted because he blocked the user account.

The pair chatted back and forth while using a fake picture and posing as a 14-year-old boy.

The complaint also cites a video, which contained descriptions in line with the one provided to NBC15 News, in which the detective states Bittelman could be seen nodding when asked about about inappropriate questions to a boy that young. When asked on the video if he thought what he was doing was illegal, Bittelman is quoted as responding “I think it is when you are trying to entice them into things it is,” arguing that he made it clear that nothing would happen between him and the person he thought was fourteen.

By the morning after the video was recorded, the Marquette Co. Sheriff’s Office had fired Bittelman and he was booked on a single count of using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. Since then, a charge of soliciting intimate representation from a minor charge has been added.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text HELLO to 741741.

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