A white restaurant manager in Conway, South Carolina, is accused of beating and forcing an intellectually disabled black man to work for little to no pay for five years.
According to The Post and Courier, the US Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that they indicted Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, on a felony forced labor charge. The victim, John Christopher Smith, 39, reportedly had worked at J&J Cafeteria for more than 20 years without issue until Edwards took over as manager in 2010.
Though the indictment remains sealed, many of the details surrounding Smith’s alleged enslavement were revealed in a 2015 lawsuit against Edwards; the man’s brother and restaurant owner, Ernest J. Edwards; and the establishment, The Washington Post reported.
The lawsuit accused Bobby of holding more than $30,000 of Smith’s earnings in a bank account that Smith had no access to. The complaint claimed Bobby reported that the victim made less than $1,000 per quarter—despite him regularly working 18-hour days.
In addition to not being paid, Bobby allegedly didn’t give Smith breaks, time off or any benefits, according to WBTW. Smith was often so tired from working that he would have to be carried home and “physically fed drink and food,” documents alleged.
“[The victim] was kept from his family and forced to live in sub-human conditions in a cockroach-infested apartment directly behind the Cafeteria which was owned by Defendants,” a 2014 statement from the law firm read.
Additionally, Smith claimed he was routinely abused by Bobby—with customers often being in earshot. On one occasion, Bobby allegedly whipped Smith with a belt buckle for not bringing food to the buffet fast enough.
“Plaintiff was heard crying like a child and yelling, ‘No, Bobby, please!’ After this beating, Defendant Bobby forced Plaintiff to get back to work,” the complaint detailed.
Another instance reportedly involved the manager putting tongs into hot frying grease and striking them on the back of Smith’s neck.
According to The Courier, lawyers claimed that Bobby would also beat Smith with frying pans and butcher knives all “while being called the N-word repeatedly.”
“Customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitresses, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby they wouldn’t tell them then what it was,” George Caines, whose daughter worked at the Conway restaurant, told WMBF in February 2015.
Caines s believed to have reported the abuse to authorities in October 2014, prompting social workers to check on Smith. Workers allegedly discovered scars on Smith’s back and placed him into Adult Protective Services’ (APS) custody. Bobby was charged with second-degree assault, which is currently pending in court, according to The Post.
If convicted of the felony offense, Bobby faces a maximum of 20 years behind bars and $250,000 in fines. He will also have to pay restitution to Smith.
“I want him to go to prison,” Smith said, “and I want to be there when he go.”
[Featured Image: Horry County Sheriff’s Department]