When 18-year-old Justice Feggans and two other suspected armed robbers forced their way into 96-year-old Levi Clayton’s East Side home, they were searching for cash and drugs, according to police, who say the violent Nov. 24 home invasion was anything but random.
Feggans, a star Riverside High School basketball player, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree robbery as well as two counts of first-degree burglary late Wednesday. He and his accomplices, police say, attacked Clayton, beating him in the head, face and body.
The elderly man suffered critical injuries, including a broken jaw, and was hospitalized for weeks. He has since recovered enough to be placed in a long-term health care facility.
“This was a terrible crime, and we are very pleased today to announce that, with the tremendous diligence of our Police Department, we were able to make an arrest,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said at a City Hall news conference late Thursday afternoon. “The public was outraged by this case.”
Last spring, narcotics detectives conducted a raid at Clayton’s home, 99 Longview Ave., after receiving a tip that drugs were being sold from the residence, law enforcement officials told The Buffalo News.
The raid ended with the confiscation of several thousand dollars, a handgun, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs.
A relative, police said, was arrested at the time.
Authorities stressed that Clayton, a retired autoworker and World War II veteran, had no knowledge that he was being taken advantage of by his family member, who was using his home as a drug house.
“It was not a random robbery. The robbers came there for the specific purpose of getting the stash, and the poor old guy was caught in the middle,” a police source said.
Prior to the raid, the relative installed exterior surveillance cameras that police believe were used to monitor activity outside the house, which is in the Delavan-Grider neighborhood and only a few blocks from Erie County Medical Center, where Clayton spent weeks being treated for the broken jaw and numerous other injuries.
Video from the surveillance cameras showing the suspects outside the home later was released to the media. That and tips from the public helped police in arresting Feggans.
“We are here today because of those tips ... the tips were instrumental in making the arrest,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said. “The investigation at this point continues. We have a lot more work to do here.”
Feggans, according to Derenda, is not related to the victim. When asked if Feggans knew the family, the commissioner declined to comment.
“Mr. Clayton is certainly a fighter,” said the mayor, who visited him at ECMC. “It was terrible to have a member of our community in that position. It was a crime that really captured the attention of our community. This was not a random act of violence.”
Ela Goree, 71, a niece of Clayton, expressed relief that one of the alleged attackers is now behind bars.
“I’m glad, and I hope they get the rest of them,” Goree said.
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said his staff has been working tirelessly on the case and specifically credited Assistant District Attorneys James Bargnesi and Michael P. Felicetta.
Feggans is a standout player on the Riverside High basketball team. He scored 33 of the team’s 49 points during a game against Williamsville North on Dec. 12.
This is his first brush with the law. Twice last year, he was arrested by city police.
On Oct. 11, Feggans and others allegedly ordered a Huntington Avenue resident, at gunpoint, into his garage, but the resident escaped. Feggans was later arrested, and charges are pending. In March, after a traffic stop, Feggans was charged with possession of marijuana.
He is in the Erie County Holding Center in lieu of $250,000 bail.