A Black worker was subjected to racially-charged violence for five years at a South Carolina restaurant, said federal prosecutors Wednesday.
Bobby Paul Edwards, a 52-year-old White manager, used “force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion” to get Christopher Smith to work at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, The Post and Courier reported. Edwards, who was arrested Tuesday, faces a forced labor felony carrying up to 20 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday. The manager pleaded non-guilty and was ordered held without bail.
Smith had worked at J&J Cafeteria for 23 years, but accusations against Edwards surfaced toward the end of Smith’s tenure as a buffet cook. Edwards forced Smith to work from dawn until late a night seven days a week, with little or no pay, alleged Smith, The Washington Post reported. The manager allegedly threatened to “stomp” his throat as well as beat him “until people would not recognize him.”
Smith, who has an intellectual disability, was also “hit was a frying pan, burned with grease-covered tongs and beaten with butcher knives, belt buckles and fists while being called the N-word repeatedly,” his lawyers alleged.
State social workers vetted a tip from someone concerned for Smith’s safety and came to Smith’s rescue, the Courier reported.
Smith’s alleged enslavement was detailed in a federal lawsuit, filed against Edwards and his brother, Ernest Jr. Edwards who owns J&J Cafeteria, by civil attorneys on Smith’s behalf in late 2015. FBI and civil rights prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice began probing the case against Edwards, who was also arrested on a second-degree assault and battery state charge.
Edwards is also facing paying mandatory restitution to Smith on top of prison time. The lawsuit remains unresolved, but Smith’s attorney is hopeful for a conviction.
“Our client is very appreciative of the efforts put forth by the U.S. government in its investigation,” said David Aylor, an attorney for Smith, “and he believes that ultimately, justice will be served.”
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