White restaurant manager enslaved mentally disabled black worker for years

A white restaurant manager in South Carolina was arrested after allegedly enslaving and abusing a black man with mental disabilities.

The manager, Bobby Paul Edwards, used “force, threats of force, physical restraint, and coercion” to keep John Christopher Smith as a buffet cook at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, SC for several years, prosecutors said.

Edwards, 52, was charged with “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking,” to which he pled not guilty this week. He faces up to 20 years in prison, thousands in fines and if convicted, will have to pay restitution to the victim, who is 39 and has “mild cognitive disability.” Edwards’ brother Ernest, the restaurant owner, has also been accused of enslaving Smith.

Smith was a longtime employee of the restaurant, but was taken advantage of beginning in 2010, when Edwards’ boss became the manager. Smith was forced to work long hours with no days off for little to no pay or benefits, prosecutors said, and was physically abused by Edwards, who whipped him and burned him with hot fryer tongs — Edwards already has an assault case pending against him for his abuse of Smith.

Smith also lived in an apartment behind the restaurant, with Edwards as his landlord. Edwards reportedly told Smith he kept a bank account for him with thousands of dollars in it, but Smith was never given any money and did not have access to it.