In a truly horrific case out of South Carolina, a restaurant manager has been indicted on charges of forced labor for allegedly enslaving a mentally disabled worker. The Washington Post reports 52-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards, who is white, forced John Christopher Smith, a 39-year-old black man with with “a mild cognitive disability,” to work long hours at his restaurant J&J Cafeteria with little to no pay for five years, physically abusing him and holding him captive in a roach-infested apartment behind the restaurant.
Smith says he worked at the Conway, S.C. restaurant without incident for 20 years until Edwards took over management in 2010. According to a lawsuit filed on Smith’s behalf in 2015, Smith “earned less than $1,000 per quarter,” despite working 18-hour days seven days a week. The suit also alleges that Edwards once “dipped a pair of tongs into hot frying grease and scalded the back of his neck” and would whip him with a belt.
Smith says he was afraid to report the abuse because he felt “coming forward would be fruitless” and feared Edwards may kill him. Authorities were alerted of the situation in 2014 by the mother-in-law of a J&J waitress, and Smith was soon placed in protective custody by social services.
Edwards was arrested soon after, at which point the state charged him with assault. This week, a S.C. federal court charged him with forced labor, for which he faces a maximum of 20 years in jail and will have to pay restitution to Smith. Edwards has pleaded not guilty.