White restaurant manager accused of enslaving black worker

Elias Hubbard
October 13, 2017

According to the indictment, Edwards used force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion, among other means, to compel the victim to work as the buffet cook of J&J Cafeteria in Conway.

Edwards was formally charged with "attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking". He faces up to 20 years in prison.

If convicted, along with some well-deserved prison time, Edwards would have to pay restitution to Smith. A message seeking comment from his attorney, Scott Bellamy, was not immediately returned early Thursday.

The federal allegations mirror some of those in the lawsuit. Smith was often so exhausted from working that he would have to be carried home and "physically fed drink and food", documents alleged. The manager allegedly threatened threats to "stomp" his throat as well as beat him "until people would not recognize him".

Smith, who has an intellectual disability, would pull 18-hour shifts six days a week, sometimes without breaks, his attorneys said in the suit.

Another instance reportedly involved the manager putting tongs into hot frying grease and striking them on the back of Smith's neck.

"Plaintiff was heard crying like a child and yelling, 'No, Bobby, please!' After this beating, Defendant Bobby forced Plaintiff to get back to work", the complaint read.

Naturally, Smith was too afraid to come forward because he believed that he would just receive more of the same. or worse. "[The victim] was kept from his family and forced to live in sub-human conditions in a cockroach-infested apartment directly behind the Cafeteria which was owned by Defendants".

The brothers allegedly told him they were keeping all of his earnings in a bank account but never gave him access to it.

At the time of the lawsuit, Smith's lawyers said: 'The conduct in this case is as troubling as anything I h ave seen in nearly 20 years of practicing law, attorney W. Mullins McLeod Jr. said.

An attorney for Smith filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 against Edwards, the restaurant and its owner, Ernest Edwards, who is the accused's brother. Both have denied wrongdoing.

Smith was removed from the restaurant and placed in the care of Adult Protective Services after Geneane Caines, a woman whose daughter-in-law worked there, reported the abuse. That case is pending in state court.

The attorney general notes that the indictment is "merely an accusation" and that Edwards is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Edwards forced Smith to work from dawn until late a night seven days a week, with little or no pay, alleged Smith, The Washington Post reported.

Smith told WMBF in Myrtle Beach in 2015 that he began washing dishes after school at J&J when he was 12 years old. He liked the job until Edwards took over, he told the station.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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