Diner manager held in enslavement case
CHARLESTON, S.C. – A white restaurant manager accused of enslaving and abusing a mentally disabled black man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in South Carolina on a charge of forced labor.
Federal prosecutors say Bobby Paul Edwards used “force, threats of force, physical restraint, and coercion” to compel John Christopher Smith to work as a buffet cook at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., for more than five years.
Edwards, 52, was arrested this week and pleaded not guilty in open court on Wednesday, shortly after prosecutors announced the indictment, records show.
Smith, 39, who has a mild cognitive disability, had worked for more than two decades without issue at the J&J Cafeteria, washing dishes, busing tables and later cooking food at the folksy small town diner. But when Edwards took over as manager in 2010, Smith said in his lawsuit, the job turned into a nightmare.
Edwards would force Smith to work from dawn until late into the night, seven days a week, with little or no pay, no benefits and no vacation time, Smith alleged. Some days he would leave so exhausted and weak he had to be carried home and “physically fed drink and food.”