A Black Mentally Disabled Man Gets Awarded $546,000 For Unpaid Wages and Alleged Abuse From Former Boss: DOJ

Bobby Paul Edwards serving a 10-year sentence.
Horry County Sheriff's Department

John Christopher Smith now in his 40s, had been working at J&J restaurant since he was 12, and started as a part-time dishwasher. Once Bobby Edwards took over in 2009 that was when the abuse started, according to the Court of Appeals, People reported. 

A Black South Carolina with intellectual disabilities who was forced to work 100 hours a week without pay and was physically and mentally tortured over a five-year-period by his former boss has been awarded $546,000 in restitution, double than what he was initially entitled to, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled.

John Christopher Smith, was initially awarded $273,000 in back payments stemming from all the years his former boss Bobby Paul Edwards at J&J Cafeteria, withheld payment, but the appeals court held that the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina did not include the federal labor laws in the initial decision, People reported. 

“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. 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," the Court of Appeals wrote in its filing.

Edwards allegedly abused Smith between 2009 and 2014 subjecting Smith to physical and psychological abuse whenever he made a mistake or failed to work fast according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) release. Edwards beat the victim with a belt, fists, and pots and pans, they said. On one occasion, he allegedly dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the victim’s neck. Edwards also yelled at the victim and used racial slurs to belittle and demean him, the release said.

In 2014, Edwards was removed from the restaurant after a concerned resident notified state authorities of the abuse taking place, the DOJ said.

Smith, who is now in his 40s, had been working at J&J restaurant since he was 12-years-old, started off as a part-time dishwasher. Once Edwards took over in 2009 that was when the abuse started, according to the Court of Appeals, People reported. 

Smith told WMBF during a 2015 interview that he was diagnosed with delayed cognitive development and that he never reported the abuse because he was scared. 

In Nov. 2019, Edwards, 53 a white man from Conway, SC, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor of coercing an African-American man with an intellectual disability to work extensive hours at a restaurant for no pay. He also admitted that he used violence, threats, isolation, and intimidation to enslave and abuse him, according to the DOJ.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims.”  

“For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence,” said U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence.”

Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a statement. “Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay,” Gore said. “Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows, in public places, such as restaurants.”

He continued,  “Combatting human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department and today’s guilty plea reflects our commitment to seeking justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking.”

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