Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, who was charged with slavery, assault and battery, false imprisonment, Fair Labor violations and discriminations against John Christopher Smith, a Black employee with intellectual disabilities at J&J Cafeteria in Myrtle Beach, S.C., plead guilty on Monday.
Edwards, Smith’s manager and brother of the business owner Edward J. Edwards, admitted that he used violence, threats, isolation and intimidation. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are currently held in slavery.
NAACP local president Abdullah Mustafah told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “In this particular atmosphere where he was at, he was conditioned and he feared going anywhere. That’s why he wasn’t able to break away.”
Smith, who had numerous scars on his body and described Edwards as a “slave driver”, was vulnerable. People with disabilities are at risk of abuse more frequently, for longer periods of time, by the same person and are more likely to stay in the situation and not reach out for legal help.
Between 2009 and 2014, with intimidated employee witnesses, Smith was beaten with a frying pan, hot tongs, butcher knives, belt buckles and fists; and dragged into a walk-in freezer and had his life threatened. The owner was alerted to the abuse and reportedly chose to let it continue.
With his 100 hours per week work schedule, Smith was kept away from his family, even when they would come to the restaurant to see him, according to the NAACP, who was involved in helping Smith.
J&J Cafeteria, under Half Moon Food Inc., had an annual revenue of over $145,000 and paid Smith less than $3,000 in annual wages, according to the complaint filed in 2015. The owner forced Smith to live in one of the owner’s cockroach-infested apartments, and deprived Smith of $30,000 in a bank account Edwards managed for him.
If Smith was registered with Social Security Administration for disability benefits, he would’ve been entitled to designating a representative payee to manage his money to make sure it wasn’t misappropriated. According to the SSA, not reporting abuse, neglect, or exploitation also makes a person liable, and reporting is required by law.
Edwards faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for forced labor, a $250,000 maximum fine and mandatory restitution to the victim.