Family of a Black teen who was shot after ringing the wrong doorbell files lawsuit against homeowner


The family of a Black teenager who was shot by a white homeowner when he mistakenly went to the wrong Kansas City, Missouri, address filed a lawsuit Monday, described by the family’s attorney as an attempt to put pressure on the criminal trial later this year.

The complaint, filed by Cleo Nagbe on behalf of her son, Ralph Yarl, alleges that Andrew Lester, 84, was negligent when he shot the 16-year-old without warning more than a year ago, on April 13. It states that Yarl suffered and sustained permanent injuries, as well as pain and suffering, as a direct result of Lester’s actions.

Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said the civil suit is to “give the family a chance to be in the driver’s seat in pursuing justice for Ralph” as the state’s criminal case against Lester unfolds.

Lester pleaded not guilty in September 2023. The trial was scheduled to begin more than a year later on October 7, 2024.

Lester’s attorney in the criminal case, Steve Salmon, said he is evaluating the civil complaint and will discuss it with Lester. He said at a preliminary hearing for the criminal case that Lester was acting in self-defense, terrified by the stranger who knocked on his door as he settled into bed for the night.

“The suit is based on what he has said,” Merritt told The Associated Press. “If he’s saying, ‘I mistakenly thought this person was a robber,’ we’re saying that’s negligence. You weren’t paying close enough attention. Everybody who rings your doorbell can’t be a robber.”

Yarl mixed up the street name of the house where he was sent to pick up his siblings. Yarl testified at the hearing that he rang the doorbell and then reached for the storm door as Lester opened the inner door. Lester told him, “Don’t come here ever again,” Yarl recalled.

He said he was shot in the head, the impact knocking him to the ground, and was then shot in the arm.

The case, which drew international attention, animated national debates about gun policies and race in America.

In a statement, Nagbe said the shooting “not only shattered our family but also exposed a critical gap in our societal fabric, where the safety of our children is jeopardized by reckless actions.”

The lawsuit also names the homeowner’s association, Highland Acres Homes Association, Inc., as a defendant. The association did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Merritt said the family is aware the litigation might be delayed pending the outcome of the criminal case but wanted to still begin the process. He cited state law that allows the victim access to the criminal case records that has not yet been satisfied, as the state attorney seeks clarification from the judge on the case’s gag order.

Yarl was “uniquely resilient” after the shooting, Merritt said, but “his resiliency has kind of grown into some impatience with being the person who was shot a year ago.”

“He doesn’t want to be that person,” Merritt said. “He wants to be an amazing band player, a good friend, a student, a rising college student.”

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