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Black employee enslaved by restaurant manager to receive over $500,000

John Christopher Smith, a former employee at the J&J Cafeteria in South Carolina, will be compensated after years of being overworked and enduring abuse at the hands of his manager.

Bobby Paul Edwards, John Christoper Smith Horry County Jail, WPDE

A Black employee with intellectual disabilities who was forced to work more than 40 hours a week without pay will be compensated by the restaurant manager who enslaved him. As The Seattle Times reported, Bobby Paul Edwards was ordered to pay over $500,000 to John Christopher Smith, his former employee.

According to court documents, Smith — a longtime employee of the J&J Cafeteria in 1990 — started working at the restaurant when he was 12 years old. He reportedly enjoyed washing dishes and completing other required tasks under Edwards’ relatives, but when Edwards took over the scene, things took a turn for the worse.

Under Edwards’ leadership, Smith was relocated to a “deplorable” and “harmful to health” roach-infested apartment where he was forced to work over 100 hours a week without pay and no days off. He was kept from his family, called racial slurs and often punched and whipped him with belts and pans. In another alarming instance, Edwards pressed tongs covered in hot grease into Smith’s neck because he failed to deliver some fried chicken as quickly as he demanded.

“Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” Smith said, per court records. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”

According to WYFF, fellow employees — who also feared Edwards — were hesitant to report the abuse. Fortunately, however, Geneane Caines whose daughter-in-law worked at J&J Cafeteria was concerned and reported the news to authorities in October 2014. The restaurant employee was taken to Adult Protective Services, and Edwards was charged with second-degree assault and “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.”

Edwards pleaded guilty to a forced labor charge and is currently serving a 10-year bid in prison. He is now ordered to pay Smith $546,000 in restitution.

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