Police react to handling of Tyler Smith death investigation; family pushes forward

GALESBURG, Ill. (NEWS3) — Parents of 23-year-old Tyler Smith continue to plead for answers into how their son died on Sept. 15, 2018 in Cedar Fork creek in Galesburg.

The family has been fighting for justice for more than a year trying to piece together what could have happened to their only child.

Tyler’s parents, Sandra Halsne and Keith Smith, feel the investigation into their son’s death has provided little answers since the Galesburg Police Department began investigating the case.

“We’re just looking for answers like anybody would,” Keith Smith said.

Halsne and Smith said they have been disrespected and lied to multiple times while trying to talk with officials about the incident.

Halsne said investigators told her the department “dropped the ball” and that Tyler was a “learning experience” for the department.

“I don’t know what dropped the ball means exactly, I’d assume that’s an improper, incomplete investigation,” former Galesburg Police Chief David Christensen said.

“I don’t like that term, someone losing a child is not someone’s learning experience, I don’t like that term, and I don’t know where that came from, so I don’t like that term,” current Galesburg Police Chief Russ Idle said. “That’s not respectful to what they’re going through.”

The police department said it has done all it can to help the family and has sympathy for their loss, but could have communicated better.

Smith graduated from Western Illinois University in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and minor in homeland security.

The night of Sept. 14, Tyler came to Galesburg and went bar hopping with friends a day before he was planning to go to National Guard training in Macomb.

Throughout the night on Sept. 14, Tyler’s friends tried to reach him on his phone but he did not respond.

On Sept. 15 around 6 p.m., a passerby saw someone laying in Cedar Fork creek and called police. Police responded and the body was later identified as Smith laying face down in two inches of water.

Tyler’s parents said the death investigation by officials has been unjust and hard for them to understand the circumstances because of so many unclear answers.

Smith’s family said officials were quick to come to a conclusion of what happened.

“The staff time that we have available for a case like that certainty isn’t as much staff time as we would have for a clearly homicidal case,” Christensen said.

“Sometimes in life we never have all the answers,” Idle said. “In law enforcement, we don’t have a magic pill. Sometimes there are things we just don’t know and may never know. Unfortunately, that may be the reality in this case. Sometimes we can’t find answers to things, that’s just reality of life. I’ll do everything I can, but we weren’t there and if no one was there, somethings we don’t know.”

Halsne said police have broken protocols, provided inaccurate information, and not put full assets, resources and time into the case.

“The presentation or the idea that one of our officers were involved and somehow one of our Tasers was used is ridiculous, preposterous, and insulting,” Idle said. “At no time anywhere during the investigation did anyone’s demographic or what they look like or sound like or shaped like enter into anyone’s thought process.”

Officials ruled Tyler’s death as an accident and drowning with an undetermined cause.

The case remains an open but not active investigation.

Smith’s parents said they can’t take back the tragedy of what happened but will continue to fight for justice and show support and give back to people in the community.

Sandra Halsne and Keith Smith have set up a memorial fund in Tyler’s name in hopes of using it to do what Tyler was known for, giving and helping others.

Tyler’s family has given away two scholarships to students at Rochelle Townships High School, the same high school Tyler attended. The family also hosted a 5K Run/Walk on the one-year anniversary of Tyler’s death, to help raise money for the memorial fund.

Halsne said the hope is to give out more scholarships and grants in Tyler’s name and to what Tyler loved, police and military.

“We plan on honoring our son’s memory by giving back by helping others every year because that is who Tyler was,” said Halsne. “A very giving person. We were so very blessed to have Tyler as our son for the short amount of time we had. We no longer can physically celebrate birthdays, holidays, vacations, or future plans, but we will be able to have an annual event to celebrate Tyler’s life and who he was and how loved he is to this very day. We feel very blessed to be able to have the support of so many to continue this legacy for our son. He will never be forgotten.”

You can find more information on the memorial fund here.

NEWS3 has aired a series of reports looking into the death investigation of Tyler Smith. Below you can find all of our stories.

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, you hear from police and see surveillance video of Tyler and reports from the pathologist and coroner. That report can be found here.

In part 3, Tyler Smith’s parents explain why they are not happy with the conduct and treatment from officials since the start of the death investigation. That report can be found here.

In part 4 below, the current and former Galesburg Police chiefs respond to claims from Smith’s parents and their handling of the investigation.