Restaurant Manager Accused Of Enslaving Mentally Disabled Cook

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Prosecutors allege that Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, used "force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion" to make 39-year-old John Christopher Smith work as a buffet cook for little to no pay for five years.

The troubling situation at the J&J Cafeteria first came to light in November 2014, according to WPDE TV, when co-owner and manager Edwards was charged with second degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor, after the South Carolina Department of Social Services received a complaint of abuse and torture at his restaurant.

Bobby Paul Edwards is seen in a booking photo released September 3, 2017, by the Horry County Sheriff's Office.

If convicted, along with some well-deserved prison time, Edwards would have to pay restitution to Smith. Some days he would leave so exhausted and weak he had to be carried home and "physically fed drink and food". "Take the tongs to the grease on my neck".

On one occasion, Edwards allegedly lashed him with a belt several times because he believed he had not taken food out fast enough to customers.


Smith worked for 23 years at J&J Cafeteria, but at the end of his time working as a buffet cook, social workers were tipped off about the awful conditions Smith was forced to endure.

In an interview with WMBF in 2016, Smith said Edwards began abusing him in 2010.

"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 reads, per The Washington Post. Smith's attorneys described the conditions there as "sub-human", "deplorable" and "harmful to human health".

The combination of threats and actual abuse made Smith so afraid, the lawsuit said, "that he felt coming forward would be fruitless" and bring about "more aggravated abuse or even death".

The brothers allegedly told him they were keeping all of his earnings in a bank account but never gave him access to it. The lawsuit remains unresolved, but Smith's attorney is hopeful for a conviction.


Geneane Caines, Smith's advocate, eventually learned of the abuse and reported it to authorities in October 2014.

Details of the alleged abuse Smith suffered at the restaurant emerged in 2015 when his attorneys in Charleston filed a federal lawsuit against Edwards, the business and its owner, Ernest Edwards, who is Bobby Paul Edwards' brother, The Post and Courier reports.

"He would beat me with belts and all that", Smith told WMBF News in 2015.

Horry County court records show Edwards' rap sheet is lengthy and includes charges for burglary, assault, resisting arrest and shoplifting.

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.


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