A White restaurant manager who beat and tortured a mentally disabled Black employee for several years, and kept him captive, was sentenced to a decade behind bars.
Bobby Paul Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the abuse and “forced labor” of John Christopher Smith, who worked extensive hours at the restaurant in Conway, South Carolina, without pay, the Justice Department said in a statement on Thursday (Nov. 7).
The 54-year-old man was also ordered to pay Smith $272,952.96 in restitution, the statement said.
“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 the statement.
Smith, who has intellectual disabilities, worked at the restaurant since the age of 12. But it wasn’t until Edwards became a manager in 2009 when the abuse began, CNN reports.
During the five years Edwards was manager — between 2009 and 2014 — he beat Edwards with a belt, hit him with pots and pans, hurled racial epithets at him, and even burned the victim’s bare neck with hot tongs to make him work faster, federal officials said, according to CNN.
“I wanted to get out of there a long time ago. But I didn’t have nobody I could go to,” Smith said in a 2017 interview with WPDE.
He also said that Edwards forced him to live in a room behind the restaurant and was ordered to stay in the kitchen when his relatives would come to the restaurant, WPDE reports.
“I couldn’t go anywhere,” he added. “I couldn’t see none of my family.”
After five years of abuse and forced labor, working more than 100 hours a week, a frequent customer noticed scars on Smith’s body and called authorities. They then removed Smith from the restaurant, WPDE reports.
A local court accused Edwards of assault, which is a misdemeanor, but the local NAACP office in Conway pushed for tougher charges, WMBF reported.
“We are talking about enslavement here,” Abdullah Mustafa, president of the local chapter, said at the time, WMBF reported.
In June of last year, Edwards pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor and was sentenced to 10 years this week, CNN reports.
“This abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person is shocking,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris said in the Justice Department’s statement.
“The FBI is always vigilantly searching for these offenses and stands ready to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims reclaim their lives,” Norris continued. “We understand human trafficking takes many forms and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI.”
Dreiband also said in the statement, “The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims.”
(Photo: J. Reuben Long Detention Center)