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Black man enslaved by white restaurant owner set to receive over $ 500,000, court rules

A black man with an intellectual disability is set to receive more than $ 500,000 after being enslaved for five years at a restaurant in South Carolina, a court has ruled.

Bobby Paul Edwards, who is white, pleaded guilty in June 2018 to a forced labor boss for using “violence and other coercive means” to force John Christopher Smith to work in his restaurant more than 100 hours a week without pay.

As part of his guilty plea, Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay Smith $ 272,952.96 in restitution. However, a court ruled last month that the amount should be doubled and that Smith should receive more than $ 545,000.

In the April 21 decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the original amount decided by the court had “erred in refusing to include damages in its restitution order.”

Citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, the court said that an employer who does not pay a worker minimum wage and overtime is “liable for liquidated damages” in an amount equal to that missed compensation.

Bobby Paul Edwards, a South Carolina restaurant manager who was sentenced to be held without bail for abusing and enslaving a mentally ill employee.J. Reuben Long / AP Detention Center

“When an employer does not pay these sums, the employee suffers losses, which include the loss of the use of that money during the delay period,” the ruling states.

The abuse began in 2009 when Edwards was the manager of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, about 15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach.

The US Department of Justice said Edwards subjected Smith to “physical and emotional abuse” whenever Smith didn’t work fast enough or made a mistake. Authorities said Edwards would hit Smith, beat him with a belt and hit him with pots and pans. On one occasion, Edwards dipped metal tweezers into hot grease and burned Smith’s neck, the Department of Justice said.

Edwards also used racist slurs “to demean him and demean him,” the agency said.

Smith was kicked out of the restaurant and placed in the state’s Adult Protective Services custody after an affected resident contacted authorities in 2014.

According to NBC affiliate WMBF in Myrtle Beach, Smith has a condition in which his intellectual ability is significantly below average.

The following year, he sued Edwards, J&J Cafeteria and the restaurant’s co-owner for slavery, false imprisonment, and racial and disability-based discrimination. According to the lawsuit, Edwards owned the restaurant with his brother.

Smith said in the lawsuit he was forced to work from 6 a.m. until the restaurant was closed and cleaned. Sometimes he didn’t leave until 1:30 a.m.

There were times when Smith was so tired that he “had to be brought home and physically fed food and drink,” the lawsuit says. Edwards told Smith he was putting his compensation in a bank account, but it didn’t exist.

The beatings and physical abuse would take place in a back office or freezer, Smith said in the suit.

He did not report the abuse because he feared for his life. According to the lawsuit, Edwards threatened to stomp on Smith’s neck if he went to the police and beat him “until people didn’t recognize him.”

During the years he was enslaved, Smith was forced to live in an apartment owned by Edwards. The lawsuit declares that the apartment was invaded by cockroaches and that the living conditions were “deplorable and harmful to human health”.

The trial remains open.

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