US court says Black man should get far more money for forced labor


CHICAGO, United States

A white South Carolina restaurant owner, already serving a 10-year prison sentence for enslaving his Black cook, may have to pay hundreds of thousands more in restitution to his victim, according to a court.

Bobby Paul Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison after the Justice Department accused of him physically abusing John Christopher Smith and forcing him to work without pay or days off for five years.

Edwards pleaded guilty in 2019 and besides his prison sentence, was ordered to pay Smith $500,000 in damages.

That amount included nearly $273,000 in back pay that Smith never received.

The Justice Department later requested the $273,000 be doubled to around $546,000 to account for what’s called “liquidated damages” — the loss of the use of that money when Smith was not paid.

A district court originally rejected that request, but a higher court, the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, is suggesting that it agrees with the Justice Department.

The Court of Appeals vacated Smith’s original restitution amount and is asking for a recalculation.

Smith, who suffers from what prosecutors called a “mild cognitive impairment,” began working for the J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina as a 12-year-old in 1990.

Edwards, who took over management of the restaurant in 2009, allowed Smith to live in a back room of the restaurant, while spending five years hurling racial slurs, physical abuse and threats at him, according to prosecutors.

At Edwards’ sentencing, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said he was appalled by the case.

“It is almost inconceivable that instances of forced labor endure in this country to this day — A century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Eric Dreiband, referring to a slave-era proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln to free all slaves in rebellious states during the civil war.


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