Lawsuit claims ‘slavery’ part of Conway man’s work conditions

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – A federal lawsuit has been filed against the owner of a Conway restaurant, an employee within the restaurant and Half Moon Foods, Inc. for the physical and mental abuse of an African American employee for more than four years.

According to a release from McLeod Law Group, Christopher Smith, a mentally handicapped African American man, was subjected to “severe physical harm” by Bobby Paul Edwards, 51, while working at J&J Cafeteria in Conway. The lawsuit documents 14 cases of action including slavery, assault and battery, false imprisonment, violations of the Fair Labor and Wages Act and numerous forms of discrimination.

Bobby-Edwards
Bobby Paul Edwards, 51,

Edwards was charged with assault and battery in November 2014 after he was accused of assaulting Smith for more than four years. A judge granted $10,000 cash surety bond and Edwards was released less than three hours after being booked into jail November 19, 2014.

According to arrest warrants from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Edwards is accused of physically abusing Smith on several occasions.  The warrant states Edwards beat and tortured Smith with a belt or belt buckle, burned, slapped and choked the employee. The victim reportedly had burn scars as well as other injuries consistent with the alleged abuse.

The McLeod Law Group maintains that Smith was not paid for his service nor allowed work breaks or time off and was deprived of any benefits. In addition, the press release from the law firm states “defendants “maintained” a bank account for [Smith] to which he was never given access. [Smith] 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 warrant states the alleged actions took place over the course of more than four years.

“[Smith] was hit in the head with a frying pan, burned and beaten regularly with kitchen tools, belt-buckles and fists while subjected to being called the “N” word repeatedly. [Smith] would be heard being beaten in the freezer, cold locker, back office and other parts of the restaurant screaming for his life,” according to Smith’s legal team.

The case was referred to the Department of Social Services following a report from the South Carolina Governor’s Office, according to a report from the Conway Police Department. SLED spokesman Thom Berry tells News13 the case was referred to their office from the Department of Social Services.

Attorney W. Mullins McLeod, Jr. who represents Smith stated, “The family and I are grateful DSS intervened and rescued Christopher. We are committed to securing justice for Christopher. Based upon the facts as we know them, the conduct in this case is as troubling as anything I have seen in almost 20 years of practicing law.”

Edwards’ attorney, Scott Bellamy, says Edwards denies the allegations and won’t comment on the case until he has had a chance to review the evidence.

News13 reached out to J&J Cafeteria, which is now under new ownership, and an employee with the restaurant says they have no comment on the case. However, it appears Edwards now owns a different eatery in the city. The City of Conway Business License Office confirms that Bobby Edwards is the listed owner of Riverside Restaurant in Conway.

In November 2014, the NAACP reported it was handling a complaint associated with this case as well.

The Complaint is filed in the Florence Division of South Carolina District Court and demands a jury trial against Bobby Edwards, the alleged abuser; Ernest Edwards, the owner of J&J Cafeteria; and Half Moon Foods, Inc.

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