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Black man enslaved by South Carolina restaurant manager is owed $546,000

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A restaurant manager who is serving prison time for effectively enslaving a Black man with an intellectual disability should pay $546,000 in restitution, a court ruled. 

Bobby Paul Edwards is already serving a 10-year sentence for forcing John Christopher Smith to work unpaid 100-hour weeks in abusive conditions at a South Carolina restaurant, but an appeals court said Smith should get double the $273,000 he was initially awarded. 

Smith, who had an IQ of 70, first started work at the Conway restaurant in 1990 at 12 years old. 

He was paid until September 2009 when Edwards took over and moved Smith into an apartment attached to the restaurant, the ruling by the Court of Appeals 4th Circuit said. 

Prosecutors had alleged that Edwards, who is white, subjected Smith to abuse that included racial epithets and threats to get him to work faster, according to The Post and Courier

Edwards forced Smith to work 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, with no days off, according to court records. 

Edwards whipped Smith, identified in court records as Jack, with a belt, beat him with pans and punched him. 

“Once, when Jack failed to deliver fried chicken to the buffet as quickly as Edwards had demanded, Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease and pressed them to Jack’s neck, resulting in a burn that fellow employees had to immediately treat,” the court ruling said. 

“Jack” later said he felt like he was in prison, the ruling quoted him as saying. 

“Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” he said, according to the court record. 

Bobby Paul Edwards, a South Carolina restaurant manager who has been ordered held without bond on charges of abusing and enslaving a mentally challenged employee
Bobby Paul Edwards, a South Carolina restaurant manager who has been ordered held without bond on charges of abusing and enslaving a Black man with an intellectual disability.
J. Reuben Long Detention Center via AP

“I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.” 

The abuse continued until October 2014, when a relative of a restaurant employee alerted authorities and the South Carolina Department of Social Services stepped in, the ruling said. 

Edwards pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor in 2019 and was initially ordered by the district court to pay $273,000 based on unpaid minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Standards Act. 

The appeals court ruling sent the matter back to the district court and asked to recalculate the restitution based on its decision.

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