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Family of Ralph Yarl files lawsuit against Andrew Lester, homeowners association after 2023 shooting

Thao Nguyen

The family of Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who was shot in April 2023 after going to the wrong house in Kansas City, Missouri, filed a lawsuit Monday against the white homeowner who shot him.

The lawsuit, filed by Yarl's mother Cleopatra Nagbe in Clay County Circuit Court, accuses Andrew Lester, 85, of being careless when he shot Yarl in the head and arm without warning on April 13, 2023. Yarl, who was 16 at the time, was severely injured and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“At all times relevant, Plaintiff (Ralph Yarl) never posed or issued a threat to Defendant, Andrew Lester,” the lawsuit states. "At no time relevant to the circumstances giving rise to this litigation did Plaintiff (Ralph Yarl) do anything that warranted Defendant, Andrew Lester, brandishing a firearm at him."

Yarl's family is also suing Lester's homeowners association, Highland Acres Homes Association, alleging that the association was aware of or should have been aware of Lester's "propensity for violence, access to dangerous weapons and racial animus," according to the lawsuit. The suit claimed that the association had a duty to exercise reasonable care "regarding the use of a firearm in and on the properties making up the Association."

Lester was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Lest pleaded not guilty to the charges in April 2023 but the case was moved to the state's Circuit Court for trial as the county's lower court cannot try felonies. He again pled not guilty to the charges in September 2023 and the trial was scheduled to begin on October 7, 2024.

The shooting drew national attention, sparking widespread protests and calls for Lester’s arrest. The incident along with several other wrong-place shootings that occurred last year also reignited debate about the country's "stand your ground" laws, which govern an individual's right to use reasonable force — including deadly force — in self-defense.

Maps and timeline:What we know about Ralph Yarl, 16, being shot by a homeowner in Kansas City

What happened during the shooting?

On April 13, 2023, Yarl was going to pick up his younger brothers and mistakenly went to the wrong house, USA TODAY previously reported. After ringing the doorbell, Lester opened the door and shot Yarl in the left forehead and right arm.

Yarl then got up and ran to three different neighbors' houses for help, according to a GoFundMe created by Faith Spoonmore, who identified herself as his aunt. Officers responded to a call that a teenager was shot in front of a residence by a homeowner around 10 p.m., Kansas City police said.

Yarl suffered a life-threatening injury but was stable and released from the hospital a few days later, according to police. A firearm was discovered at the residence and Lester was detained and released just two hours after he was arrested.

His release sparked criticism from attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt, who were retained by Yarl's family. Lester later surrendered to police on April 18 and was released on a $200,000 bond.

Merritt called for the shooting to be investigated as a hate crime. At the time, Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said there was a “racial component” to the shooting but nothing in the charging documents stated that the shooting was racially motivated.

Ralph Yarl 'suffered and sustained permanent injuries,' lawsuit says

According to the lawsuit, 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 and attention and suffered other losses and damages.”

Yarl's family raised over $3.4 million from the GoFundMe fundraiser to pay for his medical bills and therapy. The teen is a musician who has earned accolades and plays multiple instruments, according to the GoFundMe.

His goal is to attend Texas A&M University for chemical engineering, the GoFundMe stated. After recovering from his injuries, the 17-year-old walked at a brain injury awareness event with more than 1,000 people in Kansas City last May.

Contributing: N'dea Yancey-Bragg and Krystal Nurse, USA TODAY

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