Four years ago, almost to the day, 27-year-old Christopher Skinner was walking home from a night out with friends in downtown Toronto when he was confronted by a carload of young men and women who jumped from an SUV and punched and kicked him into, and beyond, submission. The driver of that 2004 black Ford Explorer then put it into gear and drove over Skinner, leaving him dead in the street.
For four years Toronto police have chased leads and sought witnesses to the attack. For four years, detectives have asked the passengers of that SUV, five men and women, to come forward and identify the driver.
None did. Still, four years after the fact, police have identified a suspect in the case and made an arrest. Augustine Caruso, 23, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Christopher Skinner.
The murder weapon: a 2004 black Ford Explorer.
The suspected motive: It is believed Skinner was attacked because he touched the car.
[ Related: SUV driver charged in Christopher Skinner killing ]
Caruso was 19 at the time of the incident and, according to police, five passengers stayed quiet for more than four years, refusing to speak up despite a substantial reward offer, despite assurances from police they were focused on the driver, and despite their own consciences.
“I am disappointed to see that in the four years of this ongoing investigation, none of the individuals that did not participate in any way in the death of Chris Skinner chose to come forward on their own,” Det. Stacy Gallant told reporters on Thursday.
“They instead kept this information to themselves and lived with it for the past four years.”
Police in Toronto and the rest of Canada have long dealt with the perception that reporting crimes is considered "snitching," a word that has be given a negative connotation everywhere from street corners to city hall.
When a north-end Toronto barbecue was disrupted by fatal gunfire in July 2012, police had to pressure many of the scores of people in attendance to come forward. Many declined as police bumped up against a wall of gangland fear.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford himself has perpetuated the “snitches get stitches mindset” over the past several weeks. First, he refused to discuss his relationship with Alexandro Lisi, who currently faces charges of drug trafficking and extortion. “I don’t throw my friends under the bus,” he said.
And later, while facing allegation of being caught on video smoking crack cocaine, Ford claimed he had similar dirt on other politicians. "I know a lot of things about a lot of politicians, but I'm not a rat and I don't squeal on people,” Ford said last weekend.
This is the mayor of Toronto saying this. It is us against them, the message goes. Keep the police out of our business. We’ll handle it ourselves.
In Skinner’s case, there was nothing to handle. Skinner was killed by someone because he touched a car. It was not a gangland shooting or a political melodrama. It was a happy, outgoing man who had spent the night with friends, who crossed the wrong carload of people and ended up dead.
The passengers of that car had four years to come clean, to make things right, or at least somewhat better, for Skinner’s grieving family. But snitches get stitches. Police now say that those who helped hide the crime will face their own criminal charges.
“I can assure you that there will be further arrests in this case in the near future,” Gallant vowed. They had their chance to be human, now they get to be charged.
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