Black, Handicapped Worker Was Enslaved, Abused For Years: Lawsuit

Managers allegedly would burn the victim, beat him, force him to work and refuse to pay him.
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Two South Carolina brothers are accused of assaulting a black, mentally handicapped employee, making him work until he was too weak to get home on his own and then refusing to pay him, according to a new federal civil lawsuit.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday by attorneys representing the victim, Christopher Smith. It names as defendants Ernest Edwards, the owner of J&J Cafeteria in Conway; manager Bobby Paul Edwards; and the restaurant's registered corporation, Half Moon Foods Inc.

The brothers are accused of holding Smith as a slave between 2010 and 2014, working him for 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and then viciously beating him in front of witnesses.

According to the complaint:

Bobby would physically restrain Plaintiff to the premises of [J&J Cafeteria] and force him to labor and work, even on occasions where Plaintiff was sick and weakened to the point he had to be carried home and physically fed drink and food. Defendant Bobby would move Plaintiff into the freezer, cold locker, back office or other part of [J&J Cafeteria] to commit acts of physical abuse on Plaintiff. Plaintiff was forced to move to these areas under fear of severe physical harm and threats of severe abuse.

The suit lists 14 accusations against the pair, including false imprisonment, discrimination, slavery and exploitive labor practices. Smith had been working at J&J Cafeteria for 23 years, and saw an annual paycheck of less than $3,000 his last year there, the suit alleges.

Among the other horrifying allegations against 50-year-old Bobby Edwards:

  • Edwards burned Smith by putting tongs in hot grease and touching the tongs to Smith's neck, until he could be heard "crying like a child" and yelling, "No, Bobby, please!"
  • Edwards "hit Smith with a butcher knife."
  • Smith was isolated and prevented from seeing his family through "lies and deceit."
  • Smith was forced to live in "subhuman conditions" in a "cockroach-infested apartment" behind the cafeteria, which Edwards owned.
  • Edwards beat Smith with belt buckles, belts, a spatula and his fists.
  • Edwards "repeatedly and habitually called Smith the 'N word.'"

Smith was rescued by state social workers in October 2014 and is in the custody of adult protective services. A spokesman for his attorneys told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that he's "recovering," but said that "this is just a bad situation."

Bobby Edwards was already charged criminally with second-degree assault over similar allegations. He was arrested on Nov. 19 last year after a witness tipped social workers off to the abuse that Smith was suffering. That case is still pending, according to The Post and Courier.

Edwards' attorney, Scott Bellamy, said Tuesday that he hadn't yet seen the complaint, but stands by his previous comment on the criminal case, in which he denied all charges.

A J&J Cafeteria employee said the restaurant was under new ownership, and didn't comment on the suit.