Woman who reported alleged Conway restaurant abuse speaks out
Conway, S.C. (WPDE) —
While a former restaurant manager is waiting to hear his fate in federal court, we're hearing more about the people involved in reporting the claims of abuse that brought police attention to a mentally-disabled restaurant employee.
Bobby Edwards, the 52-year-old former restaurant manager, has been charged with one count of forced labor after police say he abused Christopher Smith.
His federal court hearing in Florence was originally scheduled for Monday, but it was canceled.
In November of 2014, Edwards was charged with second degree assault and battery after a complaint of abuse and torture was made by the Department of Social Services.
Those charges are still pending against Edwards, according to the Horry County Public Index.
The woman who reported the abuse claims to the Department of Social Services spoke with ABC 15 News on Monday. She said she didn't see it coming.
"I was beyond shocked," said Geneane Caines.
She said she'd known the Edwards family for nearly her whole life. She even worked at J & J Cafeteria off and on for nearly 20 years.
It was her daughter, who worked with Smith, who told her Edwards was abusing Smith.
Caines said, a few years ago, she went to eat at the restaurant.
"I sat in the booth and at the end of their bar there was a dresser, an antique dresser. Chris came out of the kitchen and put some food down on the bar. He leaned one way over and, when he did, I could see [a scar] on his neck," said Caines.
Not long after that, she said she called the Department of Social Services to make a report.
In court documents, Smith's lawyers claim Edwards forced Smith to work in the restaurant for 23 years. Investigators say, during his last four years there, he worked 18-hour shifts. They said he was beaten over and over.
"First and foremost, you don't take advantage of someone who is mentally-disabled. You can't work them [for] free, okay? So, that's what they did, worked him for free," said Abdullah Mustafa, President of the Conway chapter of the NAACP.
Caines called Mustafa to step in and provide aid in the terrible situation.
Together, they helped Smith find another job--but he didn't have it for long. Then Smith stayed in her own home for two months.
Since then, she and Mustafa have been looking for a service to help him.
"Because of the state of mentality he's in, he needs somebody watching him and helping him with his money so nobody can take advantage of him," she said.
Caines said she and friends have been planning ways to raise money, hoping to alleviate some of the cost of supervision for Smith.
In the meantime, people are the community are keeping an eye on the courts, waiting to see what will happen to Edwards.