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Black Man Enslaved By White Restaurant Manager Awarded $546K In Restitution
“I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn't think about how I could without being hurt," John Christopher Smith said of his employment at J&J Cafeteria, according to court filings.
A South Carolina restaurant manager who enslaved a Black employee with an intellectual disability for more than half a decade has been ordered to pay $546,000 in restitution.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 56, was originally ordered to pay John Christopher Smith $272,952.96 in restitution for thousands of hours of unpaid work he did during his employment as a dishwasher at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina.
On April 21, a South Carolina court ruled Edwards must now pay double what he initially owed. The United States District Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled a previous court’s ruling “had erred” in not paying out the full amount, according to federal labor laws.
“Minimum wages and overtime compensation must be paid on a current basis as work is done, such that an employee receives the prescribed compensation without delay,” the court wrote in filings obtained by Oxygen.com. “But when an employer fails to pay those amounts, the employee suffers losses, which includes the loss of the use of that money during the period of delay. So fully compensating the employee requires accounting for losses from the delay.
Smith began washing dishes part-time at J&J cafeteria in 1990 when he was 12-years-old, court documents stated.
Smith, who has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 70, ultimately dropped out of high school to work at the South Carolina eatery full time. For nearly two decades, Smith toiled at the restaurant, working under various members of the Edwards family.
In 2009, however, Bobby Paul Edwards assumed managerial control of J&J Cafeteria. For the next five years, he physically and psychologically abused Smith, withheld his paycheck, and coerced him into working grueling 18-hour shifts.
“Edwards moved Jack into an apartment attached to the restaurant and forced him to work more than 100 hours per week without pay — usually 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for 6 days and 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sundays,” the court filings stated.
Edwards beat Smith with frying pans, butcher knives, spatulas, whipped him with a belt, burned him with boiling grease, and frequently belittled him with racial slurs, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com. Edwards often called Smith the “N’ word” during Edwards’ “reign of terror.”
“[Edwards] burned [Smith] by putting tongs into hot frying grease and then touching those hot tongs to [Smith’s] neck and exposed skin,” the criminal complaint stateSmith compared working in the restaurant’s kitchen to a “prison.”
"I felt like I was in prison,” Smith said, according to court filings. “Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted. ... I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn't think about how I could without being hurt."
In 2019, Edwards pleaded guilty to forced labor and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“It is almost inconceivable that instances of forced labor endure in this country to this day — a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in 2019. “The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims.”
J&J Cafeteria is located roughly 15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach.
Smith’s legal team described Edwards actions as “inexcusable and inhumane,” after he was sentenced in 2019.
"We are relieved that justice is continuing to be served," David Aylor, Smith’s lawyer, told Oxygen.com. "We applaud and greatly appreciate all that has been done on behalf of our client as well as the support that has resonated throughout the country."