Shawn Caradine Sr. put on an orange work jacket to protect his dress clothes. He brought his tools to a rental property he owns in the city to fix the air conditioning unit for the new tenants.
Caradine, 61, a mechanical engineer with a master's in business, also earned a technical certification in HVAC years ago. The skills have come in handy since he started buying and rehabbing houses in his old St. Louis neighborhood in the 1980s.
Caradine, a Black man who grew up a few blocks from this rental house, is respected and well known in the community. He owns seven properties in the West End, and has helped rehab about 50 others, in an effort to help stabilize the area.
On this day in early September, Caradine's tenant had tripped the house's SimpliSafe alarm a few times while moving stuff in and out. A series of messages on Caradine’s phone alerted him to the situation, which he responded to.
Around 4 p.m., when Caradine was about to start working on the outdoor AC unit, the alarm got tripped again. He saw a St. Louis police officer jump a fence and race over toward him. The officer asked to see his identification.
Caradine’s driver's license shows his home address in the suburbs, which he thought might confuse the situation. He offered to give the officer his phone, showing the call log with the security alerts, and to hand over the keys to the house. When the officer kept asking for ID, Caradine asked him to call a sergeant.
“Oh, you’re one of those kinds,” he recalled the officer saying. Caradine says the officer put one handcuff on him, then grabbed his shoulder and stuck his leg out to trip him. Caradine fell to the ground and the officer put his body on Caradine’s back. Caradine said the officer began to choke him with his right arm. When he got Caradine’s left arm, he handcuffed him.
“I’m going to be killed by a police officer at my own house,” Caradine remembered thinking. His shock was even greater than the throbbing pain in his head.
He had never been in handcuffs before. He and his wife raised their two sons, one a mechanical engineer and the other a manufacturing engineer, to always be respectful to the police. Son Michael Caradine, 24, who lives in Los Angeles, said his father had repeatedly taught him and his brother what to do in any police encounter: Don’t talk back. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t be aggressive in any way. Say yes ma’am, yes sir. Be as respectful as possible. Do what they say.
Caradine said he sat in handcuffs outside his house for half an hour, humiliated, even as neighbors vouched for him as the owner of the property.
When he told me about the incident, he shared his career accomplishments and how much they meant for his family: He was the first to graduate from college. The first to become an engineer. The first to get a master's degree. The first Black entrepreneur to own a Chik-fil-A franchise in the city. He had served as a deacon in his church and as a Boy Scout Leader, and his son became an Eagle Scout.
He rehabbed Section 8 housing so struggling families could find decent places to stay. In the process, he hired dozens of local young people to try to give them a way out of impoverished neighborhoods.
“I love St. Louis,” he said. “St. Louis is my home.”
But all his degrees and success and community standing didn’t change how he was treated in that encounter. Eventually, a sergeant came, talked to him and told an officer to release him.
On the drive home, Caradine called a few police officers he knew personally. They urged him to file a complaint at the district office. He wrote a detailed timeline and description of the experience and filed a case with internal affairs.
A spokesman for the police department said they do not comment on pending internal investigations. Caradine has a meeting scheduled with an internal affairs investigator.
He wants to see the officer reprimanded or removed from the department. He wants to talk to him face-to-face. Refusing to show an ID, while offering other ways to identify yourself, should not warrant being screamed at, thrown to the ground, choked and handcuffed, he said.
While his physical injuries are healing, one painful realization has stayed with him.
“He didn’t know all the things I have accomplished,” Caradine said. “He didn’t see all that. He saw a Black man in an orange jacket.”