Black teen who knocked on wrong door shot by homeowner. Legal expert discusses case.

Apr 17, 2023, 6:00 PM

door knock...

Protesters gather in Kansas City after Ralph Yarl's shooting. credit: KMBC

SALT LAKE CITY — Are we living in a time where it can be fatal to make a mistake, such as accidentally knocking on the wrong door?

A Black high school junior was sent Thursday (04/13/23) to pick up his brothers by his parents who told Ralph Yarl to go to 115th Terrace. However, but he accidentally went to a home on 115th Street in Kansas City, Missouri. A white man in his 80s at the wrong address apparently shot and seriously wounded Ralph. As he has not been charged, CNN is not naming the accused shooter at this time.

Asked whether the shooting may have been racially motivated, Police Chief Stacey Graves said, “The information that we have now, it does not say that that is racially motivated. That’s still an active investigation. But as a chief of police, I do recognize the racial components of this case,” according to CNN, which added “property records and a neighbor who spoke to CNN, confirmed the man and his wife are the homeowners living at the shooting location.”

Police initially said Ralph, 16, was in stable condition but had a life-threatening injury. His current condition has not been released, other than that he is stable as reported Monday by The Kansas City Star.

Has to be more serious than knocking at the wrong door, says legal expert

While in high school, Dave Noriega said he asked a friend to come to his house but he accidentally walked into his neighbor’s house.

“Are we in a time when we can’t make a mistake?” Debbie Dujanovic asked. “. . . like when you’re driving and you cut somebody off and you risk getting shot by the dude you accidentally cut off or you go to the wrong home and you knock on the door and you risk the person on the other side of the door having a gun and shooting you through the door.”

Along with Dave & Dujanovic, KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas breaks down the case.

Skordas said the Kansas City case all depends on what happened that night at the homeowner’s front door. Did Ralph Yarl only knock at the door or, convinced he did have the right address, did he try to enter the home?

“Under the law, you can’t just fire a weapon because somebody comes to your house. But if they enter the house, what we call surreptitiously or violently, you don’t have to ask why they’re there . . . those questions are really going to be important in determining the culpability of the homeowner and whether or not he should be responsible for an aggravated assault or potentially even an attempted murder,” Skordas said.

What did the homeowner perceive at his door?

“So let’s say the scenario is the kid just goes and knocks on the door a couple of times,” Debbie said. “The homeowner asks him to leave. The kid thinks from the address that he went to — you know 115 Street is not that different from 115 Terrace — and he’s there to pick up his two brothers. And he honestly believes those kiddos are inside . . . then he gets shot in the head.

“I mean that just seems like such a far stretch to whip out a gun and hit the kid twice with two bullets because there’s just this innocent mistake,” she said.

“Did the kid do more than just knock on the door? Did he come in, like what Dave’s friend did — and even that wouldn’t justify a use of violent force,” Skordas said.  ” . . . the entry has to be something that would have given the homeowner cause to believe that whatever was going on, his life or the life of the other people in his house were in jeopardy.”

“Are you asking the homeowner to know with a certainty that this is an invasion versus an innocent mistake in you know, in a heartbeat?” Dave asked.

“We’re not, that’s not the standard,” Skordas said. “The standard is what would a reasonable person have done if they had been standing in that homeowners shoes at that time . . . to protect themselves if they honestly and legitimately and most importantly, reasonably believed, that that entry was being done to cause them or someone else in their home harm.”

Related reading:

Man charged in shooting of Black teen at his front door

KC police chief says investigation of teen’s shooting is moving as quickly as possible

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Black teen who knocked on wrong door shot by homeowner. Legal expert discusses case.