S.C. lawyers: Black restaurant worker beaten, enslaved for years

On Monday, a pair of Charleston lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of J&J Cafeteria after they allegedly beat and enslaved a black worker for years.

The Post and Courier reports, owner Ernest J. Edwards and manager Bobby Paul Edwards allegedly began to physically and emotionally abuse the worker, Christopher Smith (also reported as John Christopher Smith), starting in 2010 until Smith was rescued in 2014. Prior to that, he had been working at the restaurant for nearly two decades.

TheGrio first reported on Smith’s story earlier this year when the abuse was reported to local authorities. Geneane Caines, the mother-in-law of a waitress at the restaurant, became Smith’s advocate after hearing horrifying stories.

Smith, who is described by attorneys as mentally handicapped, was allegedly moved to a cockroach-infested apartment near the restaurant, in conditions described by lawyers as “subhuman” and was forced to work 18-hour shifts for six days out of every week, with 11-hour shifts on Sundays. Despite the long hours, lawyers claim Smith was paid little or nothing for his work, with lawyers estimating that he earned about $2,842 yearly.

In addition, while Smith was in the Edwards’ employ, he was allegedly beaten with belts and knives, burned with grease tongs and hit with a frying pan, all “while being called the N-word repeatedly.” The alleged assaults would take place in areas such as the walk-in freezer, so that Smith’s screams pleading for his life were not heard.

Finally, last year, a social worker was tipped off to the conditions by someone who was concerned for Smith’s safety, and he was rescued at last.