Tyler Smith’s parents claim dozens of issues during death investigation

GALESBURG, Ill. (NEWS3) — Parents of former WIU graduate Tyler Smith feel officials did not fulfill their jobs to provide justice and closure after their son’s death.

Tyler’s parents, Sandra Halsne and Keith Smith, said they kept running into endless errors as they tried to get information from officials.

The family said they thought the Galesburg Police Department looked for surveillance video of Tyler until they found out it didn’t happen.

Smith’s parents said one of the pictures of Tyler’s injuries look similar to a stun gun or Taser mark. Police said officers did not have any Tasers logged that night. Police also said no dash cam video was found since the officer did not turn on their lights while driving down the street Tyler walked on. Halsne said scanner traffic was quiet during that time of night.

Tyler’s family said the police department threw several items away and released Tyler’s belongings four days after his body was found. They believe those items could have been kept for further investigation.

Russ Idle, Galesburg Police Department chief, said items are not kept when they are no longer needed for evidence in a case.

Idle said the department believes Tyler’s death was an accident. Idle said for example, is because Tyler was walking by himself.

David Christensen, former Galesburg police chief, said the officer who drove down the street about two minutes after Tyler did not mean they were going to stop him. Christensen said it is normal for police officers to patrol and see people walking and not stop and talk to them.

Smith’s parents said a few things could have happened if Tyler had walked from the fence on West Street over into Cedar Fork creek, but they don’t believe he did. The parents said he would have had to walk across railroad tracks and either came down a concrete incline unless someone brought him in a vehicle through a gate entrance to the canal if someone had a key. However, his parents said if he was on foot he would have been walking through about two inches of water slipping and falling then somehow end up about a half-mile from where he could have entered.

Halsne said she felt that something was not right from the beginning about how investigators handled the case following Smith’s death.

Tyler’s parents hired a private investigator which found that the department should have filled out a death scene checklist per protocol, but a Galesburg police sergeant confirmed to the investigator that one was not completed.

The family’s private investigator also learned an Illinois State Police crime scene technician could have been called in to handle the death investigation. Instead, the Galesburg Police Department did not call in the state police. Former police chief Christensen told NEWS3 he reached out to the state but they declined to pursue the case.

However, Halsne said the state police told her they were never contacted by the police department. Halsne and the private investigator said a crime scene technician with the state police has an office in the same building as the Galesburg Police Department who investigates cases like the death of Tyler Smith.

Halsne said if Tyler were in the shoes of the officials, like he wanted to be, he would have made sure full attention and resources were given throughout any investigation.

Police said the case remains open but not active.

Tyler’s parents have made dozens of claims about how the investigation of their son has provided little to no help of answers since the beginning of the case.

Halsne said police told her they didn’t see Tyler on surveillance video at the ATM or Casey’s, even after having it on file for three weeks. Police said they watched the video from start to finish and their computers had a malfunction and was not compatible as they looked for Tyler. However, Halsne said Tyler showed up once she met with an officer in person.

Halsne was not able to see or ID Tyler when she begged the night he was found. She said police told her he was evidence. Halsne did not see Tyler until three days after he was found dead.

No subpoena was issued for Smith’s parents to get pings off of Tyler’s phone.

Officials did not test the water that Tyler was found in.

Officials bagged Tyler’s hands but did not test for any DNA. Halsne said she was told Tyler would be x-rayed but turned he was not. She also said no fingerprints were tested either.

Halsne said police did not interview Tyler’s friends in person until two months later, they only did phone interviews within five days of Tyler’s death.

The parent’s said the police department threw away Tyler’s clothes and shoes and released the rest of his belongings within four days.

The family said Tyler’s wrists look like handcuff marks or some type of restraint on him. The family also said marks on and around Tyler’s ankle look like stun gun or Taser marks.

Halsne said the detective and coroner did not go to Tyler’s autopsy.

Six blunt injuries were listed on Smith’s autopsy, but several other injuries are not but they are seen on pictures.

Halsne said the Galesburg Police Department did not call in a state investigator per protocol.

Halsne said she was told the person who ID’d Tyler was a Galesburg police officer and had prior experience with him from drill training but then Halsne found out that officer was never on scene.

Former Chief Christensen posted a statement to Facebook following Smith’s autopsy results and said he was last scene leaving a local bar but Halsne said the chief was not able to say who saw Tyler.

Halsne said the detective on Tyler’s case was running for a county board position at the same time of handling the investigation, so she questions if he put more attention and efforts into his campaign than on the investigation.

The family said police said in January they did not conduct any business checks at Casey’s, but months later, said that they did.

According to Halsne, the pathologist said Tyler was mostly unconscious when he drowned since in two inches of water his blood alcohol content would have woken him up, the family believes he would have to have been knocked unconscious.

Halsne was told only city officials had a key to the lock on the Cedar Fork gate entrance, then she was told only the sanitary department could access it, then she was told no one knew who all had keys. Although, she learned the fire department used a bolt cutter to unlock the gates.

The family questions what happened to the $100 Tyler had that he took out of the ATM. He was only found with $72. Halsne said the detective told her asking the friends about the money was not going to tell anything.

Halsne wants to know why the detective or coroner did not take the time to see her and Keith after Tyler was found. Halsne said she was only given business cards.

The family said they feel the Galesburg Police Department was very disrespectful throughout the process of trying to get answers.

Halsne said no measurements were taken by officials. Halsne also said a railroad spike was near Tyler’s body but officials did not think it could have contributed to the incident.

Police felt the beer can was not Tyler’s and would not be much of any value given the elements it was found in so they did not keep it. Halsne said a bag of beer cans were in a bag feet from Tyler’s body but investigators did not think the beer can could have been taken from the bag and placed next to Tyler.

Halsne said the fire department removed items out of Tyler’s pockets before the detective or coroner arrived. Halsne said no documentation was done listing what items came out of what pocket.

She said no CPR was done on her son.

Halsne said the police department refused to look at autopsy photos.

Halsne said after officials moved Tyler’s body, his blood pulled to his back, meaning no fixed lividity, meaning the blood was still flowing.

Tyler had drag marks on his shoe and behind his hand.

Keith Smith felt it was strange for police to ask him where he worked but did not ask Halsne where she worked.

According to Halsne, a detective told her, “you’re just going to have to get over it,” referring to trying to get answers from investigators. She also said her and Keith Smith were told that they “watch too much TV.”

Halsne said it looked like scratches were on both sides of Tyler’s face and that his nose was broken. Scratches were also on his back, a bruise on his neck, knees were scraped, elbows scrapes, Halsne said Tyler’s wrist looked broken.

In part 1, NEWS3 reported on the timeline Smith’s family created from the times Tyler arrived in Galesburg to the time of him being found dead. That report can be found here.

In part 2 of NEWS3 exclusive reports on the death investigation of Tyler Smith, you hear from police and see surveillance video of Tyler and reports from the pathologist and coroner. That report can be found here.