This White Restaurant Manager Enslaved A Mentally Disabled Black Man For Years

Lester Mason
October 12, 2017

The 2015 complaint alleged that Edwards beat Smith with a frying pan, burned him with tongs that Edwards had dipped into a grease fryer, beat him with his belt buckle and fists and routinely used racial slurs in speaking to him, according to The Post and Courier. His plight only became public the following year after his attorneys filed a lawsuit, accusing the Edwards and his brother Ernest J. Edwards, the actual owner of the restaurant, of false imprisonment, discrimination and more.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday charged Bobby Paul Edwards, a 52-year-old manager at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., with one count of forced labor.

Additionally, Smith claimed he was routinely abused by Bobby-with customers often being in earshot.

Edwards joined as manager in 2010, and allegedly forced Smith to "work from dawn until late into the night, seven days a week, with little or no pay, no benefits and no vacation time". He pleaded not guilty during a hearing Wednesday in Florence and was ordered to be held without bail.

The charges against Edwards have since intensified and he now faces a charge of attempting to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking. It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. For all of his labor, Smith was paid less than $3,000 annually.

"Plaintiff was heard crying like a child and yelling, 'No, Bobby, please!'" according to the suit, which accused the cafeteria's owner of knowing about the alleged abuse but doing nothing to stop it. The lawsuit remains unresolved, but Smith's attorney is hopeful for a conviction. For his part, Smith said he wants to see Edwards punished for what he endured.


Geneane Caines, whose daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant at the time, told WMBF that employees feared telling authorities of the abuse.

In February of previous year, attorneys for Smith dismissed Edwards from their lawsuit "without prejudice", indicating that they were considering amending their complaint or seeking remedies in criminal court. The allegations came to light after a waitress told her mother-in-law of the abuse, and the woman went to state social workers.

Smith worked at J&J Cafeteria for over 20 years, starting at the young age of 12.

Federal authorities accused Edwards of using force, threats and physical restraints to compel Christopher Smith, 39, to work at the restaurant from September 2009 to October 2014, the New York Post reported.

"Our client is very appreciative of the efforts put forth by the USA government in its investigation", David Aylor, an attorney for Smith, told the Post and Courier Wednesday.

Asked what outcome he hopes for in the case, Smith told WMBF, "I want him to go to prison".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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