A white South Carolina restaurant owner who essentially enslaved a Black man with intellectual disabilities, making him work more than 100 hours per week without pay, owes the man more than half a million dollars, reports the Washington Post.
The owner of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, Bobby Paul Edwards was sentenced to ten years in prison last year on forced labor charges. During the criminal trial, a district court ordered Edwards to pay his victim, 43-year-old John Christopher Smith, $273,000 in back pay, but an appeals court ruled that the lower court improperly excluded punitive pay to double the amount unpaid, as allowed by law.
Smith reportedly started to work at the restaurant when he was 12-years-old, when relatives of Edwards owned the restaurant. Smith saw his full-time job as an issue of pride and independence. However, when Edwards took over ownership of the restaurant in 2009, working conditions declined sharply.
Edwards housed Smith in a rodent-infested, moldy apartment he owned which prosecutors called “sub-human.” He routinely abused Smith physically and mentally, calling him racial slurs and beating him. In one incident, when Edwards felt Smith was too slow in bringing out fried chicken to a buffet, Edwards dipped tongs in hot grease and seared Smith’s neck with the metal tongs. Edwards also whipped Smith with belts, according to a statement from Smith.
“Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” he said, according to court records. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”
Smith abuse came to light after a worker expressed fear for Smith’s health and safety to her mother-in-law, who contacted authorities.
“For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence,” Sherri A. Lydon, U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina, said in 2019. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence.”