A lawsuit filed in U.S. District court accuses two South Carolina men of keeping a Black man in slavery, according to The Post-Courier. The civil suit, filed by Charleston attorneys Mullins McLeod and David Aylor, charges brothers Ernest J. Edwards and Bobby Paul Edwards with keeping Christopher Smith in bondage. Bobby Edwards is also facing assault and battery charges.
Smith, who is developmentally challenged, worked for J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C. for 23 years, and endured horrific abuse over a four-year period. The lawsuit charges the Edwards with a host of crimes including false imprisonment, wage theft and discrimination. Smith worked for the restaurant from an early age, but the attorneys allege the abuse occurred from 2010-14, said The Post-Courier. Smith was eventually rescued by state social workers, who had been tipped off about the abuse. South Carolina Department of Social Services employees found scars on Smith’s back and reported the abuse to local police.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse started when Bobby Edwards started managing the restaurant. Smith was forced to work 18-hour shifts, six days a week. On Sundays he was forced to work 11 hours, and wasn’t allowed breaks. On top of that, Smith was severely underpaid. Attorneys estimate he received about $2,842 per year.
Smith was also hit with a frying pan, burned with grease and assaulted with belt buckles, knives and fists. He was repeatedly called the n-word, according to the attorneys. Smith lived in a roach-infested apartment owned by the business. He never reported the abuse because he feared for his life.
Aylor said the abuse Smith endured was “outrageous” and “troubling.”
“This lawsuit cannot change the past,” Aylor told The Post-Courier, “but hopefully it will bring about positive change in the future.”
Smith told local NBC affiliate WMBF he wants to see Bobby Edwards punished for his crimes.
“I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he [goes],” Smith said.
Edwards is currently free on a $10,000 surety bond, and has been told to stay away from Smith and remain in the state.