When people say we’re living in a post-racial America, show them this. A white restaurant manager from South Carolina was sentenced to 10 years in prison for enslaving and torturing a black employee with disabilities.
Bobby Paul Edwards admitted to using violence, threats, isolation and intimidation to force the employee, John Christopher Smith, to work as a cook at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina. Prosecutors say Smith worked for more than 100 hours a week without pay for nearly six years, CBS News reports.
Edwards only pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor back in June of 2018. Edwards was sentenced this past week to serve 10 years in prison and was ordered by the judge to pay Smith about $273,000 in restitution, the Justice Department said in a statement.
According to court documents, the employee endured beatings with a belt, choking, slapping, punching with a closed fist and burning with tongs used in hot grease.
“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.”
In one instance, Edwards allegedly hit Smith with objects including a frying pan, to the point that he was so weak he needed to be carried home, according to court docs.
Smith has been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development, but had worked at the restaurant for years before Edwards started working there in 2008. In a lawsuit against Edwards and the owner of the restaurant, Edwards’ brother, Smith said he wasn’t paid or given time off or benefits.
“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.”