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Man charged in overdose death of Chicago cop’s stepdaughter

Brent Tyssen. | Chicago Police Department arrest photo

When Sydney Schergen died of a drug overdose last year, Theresa Almanza found herself in an unusual position.

Almanza, a Chicago Police Department gang-crimes officer accustomed to solving crimes involving other people’s families, set out to seek justice for her own stepdaughter.

More than a year after the death, the man suspected of selling ecstasy to the 18-year-old Schergen was charged Friday with drug-induced homicide.

Brent Tyssen, 22, was ordered held in lieu of $400,000 bail Saturday, accused of selling one gram of ecstasy, also known as MDMA or molly, to Schergen on May 30, 2015, for $100. She overdosed on the drug the next day.

An 18-year-old woman — Schergen’s cousin — also has been arrested but was charged as a juvenile because she was 17 at the time of Schergen’s death, Cook County prosecutors said.

Tyssen — who smiled at his parents during Saturday’s bail hearing — has admitted selling the drug to Schergen, prosecutors said.

Almanza said she urged detectives to investigate her stepdaughter’s death as a homicide after an initial investigation was closed without any charges.

“I felt like, if I let it go, then what happened to Sydney was OK, and it wasn’t OK,” she said. “I feel if two people are on the corner and are selling drugs, they go to jail. When you add a death to it, why would it no longer be criminal?”

Sydney Schergen / Handout Photo
Sydney Schergen. | Provided photo

Almanza said she’s “thankful to the detectives for their hard work.”

She thinks Schergen’s drug use stemmed from depression the teenager suffered over the death of her mother when Schergen was just 3 — and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a relative who was never charged.

“She was very kind and giving and compassionate, “ Almanza said. “I think because of what happened to her, she would pull the car over to give homeless people change. She knew many of them had that same deep depression that she had. She related to them.”

Schergen was a standout high-school athlete at Queen of Peace High School in Burbank. A month before she died, she signed up to play volleyball at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

Sydney Schergen. | Provided photo
Sydney Schergen. | Provided photo

According to prosecutors, Schergen met her cousin and Tyssen at an apartment in Midlothian where she bought the drug. Tyssen weighed it and gave Schergen “detailed instructions” on how to use the drug, according to Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Liam Reardon.

Tyssen and Schergen’s cousin “expressed their concerns because the molly was so pure,” Reardon said.

A friend of Schergen was waiting in a car to take her to her home in Mount Greenwood. Schergen told her friend she’d taken the molly, and the friend remembered that her eyes were dilated and that she was acting strangely.

When she got home, her father thought she was acting oddly. He went to wake her in the morning, but she didn’t respond and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

In November, another woman, Kimberly Putterlik, died of a drug overdose in the same Midlothian apartment where Schergen bought the molly. Putterlik was the roommate of Alexander Acevedo, who allegedly stuffed her body in a suitcase and hid it in a basement storage unit. A neighbor flagged down a police officer because of the foul odor coming from the basement. Authorities said Acevedo told police he concealed Putterlik’s body because he was afraid he would get evicted.

Acevedo, 24, was convicted of concealing a body. He’s serving a one-year prison sentence.

In May, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that prosecutors in the suburbs have been filing charges under the state’s drug-induced homicide law much more frequently than Cook County prosecutors do. The statute was broadened in 2002 to cover anyone who delivers drugs involved in a fatal overdose. Between 2002 and May, Cook County prosecutors had approved drug-induced homicide charges nine times, compared with 18 in DuPage County and 40 in Lake County.

Earlier this year, Eugene Roy, the since-retired chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, set out to re-examine how the department uses the statute. He met with law-enforcement authorities in other jurisdictions and asked his detectives to review fatal overdose cases to see whether they could be prosecuted under the statute, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Hundreds of people have died of heroin-related deaths in Cook County this year alone.

“Yes, these cases can be hard to prosecute,” Almanza said of the drug-induced homicide law, which some say can scare away users from seeking treatment. “But people are dying in such significant numbers that they have to do this.”

Sydney Schergen. | Provided photo
Sydney Schergen. | Provided photo