A white homeowner in Kansas City, Missouri, has been charged with armed assault after he shot a Black teenager who rang his doorbell by mistake, authorities announced on Monday.
Andrew Lester, 85, is also facing a charge of armed criminal action after shooting Ralph Yarl, 16, twice on Thursday. The teenager, a high school junior, was going to pick up his younger twin brothers from a play date when he went to the wrong address. Zachary Thompson, the prosecuting attorney, announced the charges late on Monday after intense local protests and widespread outrage over the police’s decision to briefly detain Lester before releasing him without charges.
Lester was not in custody early Monday evening, but there was a warrant out for his arrest, Thompson said. Charging documents said that Lester came to the door when the doorbell rang and then shot the boy in the head, before shooting him again, and that no words were exchanged before he opened fire.
Yarl was recovering at home after being released from a Kansas City hospital on Sunday, where he was being treated for gunshot wounds to his head and chest, his family said. Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, told the Guardian that Yarl suffered a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury involving swelling, post-concussive syndrome and injuries to his arm. “The family is elated that Ralph didn’t succumb to his injuries, but now they’re angry about the failure of the justice system to show any value or appreciation of his life,” Merritt said in an interview on Monday morning before the charges were announced.
Kansas City police had insisted earlier that they could not take further action until they spoke to the seriously injured boy.
Stacey Graves, chief of the Kansas City police, defended the release of the unnamed homeowner on Sunday, citing Missouri law that states a person can be held for only 24 hours before being formally charged or released. But she said her department was working quickly to prepare evidence for the Clay county prosecutor as its felony investigation continued.
“We recognise the frustration this can cause,” Graves told reporters. “I want everyone to know that I am listening, and I understand the concern we are receiving from the community.”
Graves acknowledged hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the home where the youth was shot, carrying placards with statements including “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime.” The police chief had said detectives were looking into whether the homeowner was protected by stand-your-ground laws regarding self-defence.
Crump countered Graves’s assertion that while she recognised “racial components” of the incident, “the information we have now does not say that that is racially motivated”.
“It harkens back to Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and so many of these other tragedies where you had citizens profile and shoot our Black children, and the police then let them go home and sleep in their beds at night,” Crump said, citing other notable cases he was involved with in which white suspects were immediately freed.According to his family, Yarl, a high school junior with a passion for music, was given the address to pick up his 11-year-old brothers but mistakenly went to a house on 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace and was shot after knocking at the door.
Faith Spoonmore, the teen’s aunt, was among protesters on Sunday. She said the homeowner “opened the door, looked my nephew in the eye and shot him in the head”.
She said he was shot a second time after he fell to the ground, was able to get up and run away, and knocked at three homes before someone helped him.
“Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally,” she wrote in a GoFundMe appeal to raise money for medical bills and other expenses. By Monday afternoon the appeal had reached nearly $2m.
Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, said members of the police department attended the Sunday protest to listen to community concerns.
“This is not something that has been dismissed, marginalised or diminished in any way. This is something that is getting the full attention of the Kansas City police department,” Lucas said.
Merritt said it was rare for a victim to survive this kind of a shooting, and that he was grateful the teenager would be able to tell his side of the story. But he said the family had been struggling to process the news that the man who shot him was released from custody: “They live in the same neighborhood, they may see him at the grocery store or around corner. That causes a lot of anxiety and fear among the family.”
Merritt, a Texas-based civil rights attorney, previously represented the family of Cameron Lamb, a Black citizen fatally shot by a Kansas City detective, Eric DeValkenaere, in 2019 in a traffic stop. DeValkenaere was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed reporting
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