Ralph Yarl, teen shot after mistakenly going to the wrong house, seeks 'justice' in civil lawsuit

Yarl's mother, Cleo Nagbe, told ABC News that his recovery is "still ongoing."

ByDeena Zaru and Sabina Ghebremedhin ABCNews logo
Monday, April 29, 2024
Teen shot after mistakenly going to the wrong house speaks out
The Kansas City teenager opened up about the harrowing experience for the first time in an exclusive interview with GMA co-anchor Robin Roberts.

The family of Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who was shot and injured last year when he knocked on the wrong door, filed a civil lawsuit in Missouri on Monday against the accused shooter, Andrew Lester.

The video is from a previous report.

The complaint, which was filed on behalf of Yarl's mother, Cleo Nagbe, names Lester and the Highland Acres Lakeside Heights Homeowners Association in the Kansas City neighborhood where the shooting took place and argues that their "carelessness" and "negligence" led Yarl to "suffer and sustain permanent injuries."

"[Ralph] is an anomaly to me honestly, because there is no hatred in his heart. There's no anger or bitterness," Yarl family attorney Lee Merritt told ABC News in an interview set to air on Monday. "He has a strong sense of justice and he wants us to move forward with pursuing justice for him."

When asked about the lawsuit, Lester's attorney, Steven Salmon, told ABC News he could not comment because he was not aware of the suit and had not seen a copy of the complaint. The civil suit comes ahead of Lester's criminal trial, which is set to begin on Oct. 7.

ABC News reached out to the homeowner's association, but requests for comment were not immediately returned.

The 85-year-old was charged with one count of felony assault in the first degree in connection to the April 13, 2023 shooting and one count of armed criminal action, also a felony. Lester pleaded not guilty and was released on $200,000 bond.

Yarl was shot in the head and in the right arm by Lester, according to police, after the teenager mistakenly arrived at the wrong address to pick up his twin brothers from a friend's house. Lester maintained he believed someone was trying to break into his house.

This booking photo provided by the Kansas City Police Department shows Andrew Lester on April 13, 2023.
Kansas City Police Department via AP

"Ralph is slowly coming to terms with what happened," Yarl's mother, Cleo Nagbe, told ABC News in an exclusive interview set to air Monday. "In the beginning, his way of dealing with it was minimizing ... but trauma catches up with you. So the trauma has fallen away to catch up with him."

Merritt said that while the civil suit is "not alleging that it was because of racial animus" that Lester allegedly shot Yarl, but "a young Black boy living in Kansas City, Missouri should be able to knock on the wrong door should be able to move freely about his community without fear that he will be criminalized and that he will be violently assaulted."

The suit accuses Lester of "carelessly and negligently" failing to communicate or "give audible warning" to Yarl prior to the shooting, failing to inquire about the reason Yarl was there and failing to render aid to the teen.

Yarl, who is set to turn 18 next month, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) after the shooting Nagbe said, and his "recovery has been really long" and is "still ongoing."

She added that since his injury, her son has struggled with his school work in a way that he didn't before.

"That's why I feel bad for him," she said. "But he doesn't see that there has been a shift in his mental capacity. It's not that he's less smarter, it's just that when the brain wants to heal, the brain wants to heal. It focuses everything on that healing."

"I'm just a kid and not larger than life because this happened to me," he said. "I'm just gonna keep doing all the stuff that makes me happy."

According to the complaint, Yarl "suffered and sustained permanent injuries, endured pain and suffering of a temporary and permanent nature, experienced disability and losses of normal life activities, was obligated to spend large sums of money for medical care and attention and suffered other losses and damages."

The lawsuit alleges that Highland Acres "carelessly and negligently" failed to communicate regulations or educate its residents about the dangers of discharging firearms on the grounds and that the association "failed to render aid" to Ralph Yarl after he was shot.

Through the civil suit, the family is seeking financial compensation "in excess of this Court's jurisdictional limit," as well as the cost of legal fees, the complaint states.

According to a probable cause statement obtained by ABC News, Lester told police that he "believed someone was attempting to break into the house" and grabbed a gun before going to the door because he was scared.

Lester, who is white, claimed that he saw a "Black male approximately 6 feet tall" pulling on the door handle and "shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door." He said that the Black male ran away and he immediately called 911.

Yarl, who is a senior in high school, is college bound and is planning to study engineering, Nagbe said. He is also passionate about music and plays the bass clarinet, which led him to be selected to the 2024 Missouri All-State Band.

Nagbe said that while "people want to make [the shooting] his identity, her son "does not want to be identified as the April 13 kid."

"He wants to be seen for his accomplishments, for what he accomplishes in music, what he goes to school for and what he designs and what he builds and not what happened to him on April 13."

ABC News' Armando Garcia and Sabina Ghebremedhin contributed to this report.