Bon Appetít employee charged with second degree murder

Kim Sommers

Johnny Angel Leal, 27, a former Bon Appetít employee and Walla Walla resident, was arraigned on second degree murder charges last Monday.
Leal allegedly stabbed his brother, Pedro J. Ramirez, 28, to death in the early hours of Feb. 21.

Leal pleaded not guilty to the charges; the court set a trial date of April 7.   If Leal is found guilty of these charges he will face a prison term of about 11 to 19 1/2 years.

According to a Union-Bulletin article printed on Feb. 22, in an interview with the police, Leal reportedly claimed that the brothers got into an argument that escalated into a fight in which he was pinned to the floor and being punched in the face by Ramirez.   Leal cited self defense as the reason for picking up a knife off a coffee table and stabbing Ramirez.

In the Union-Bulletin, County Coroner Frank Brown said that an autopsy of Ramirez’s body revealed the cause of death as a single stab wound to an artery below his clavicle bone.

In the same article, Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle said, “At this point, we believe the state can prove the absence of self-defense [due to conflicting statements].”   He also said that the officials have not yet declared the motive that sparked the argument.

In addition to Leal’s murder charge, he has a previous criminal record of burglary in 1999.

Given this record, Leal’s initial hiring is curious.

Bon Appetít’s media contact Haven Bourque said that Bon Appetít complies with all client policies in regards to background checks.

According to Administrative Services Director Cindy Waring, Whitman College requires background checks on staff members being hired to hold security, money-holding, residence halls, or nude art model positions.   Their background checks are done by an outside firm who verifies the social security number and addresses listed, as well as completing a three country criminal background check and nationwide sexual predator check.   Whitman is then issued a report listing any convictions on the individual’s record.

Waring said that a potential employee who had been convicted of burglary would have been red flagged during the hiring process.

“It’s pretty routine; I think most colleges do that,” said Waring.   “Since Virginia Tech and NIU [Northern Illinois University] I think they heightened awareness of safety on campus is leading us to the possibility of doing background checks on all employees.”

Regardless of the potential employee’s position, three references checks are completed for each staff member.

It is unclear what measures were taken in the hiring of Leal.

Washington is an “at will” employment state, which means that unless employees are hired under contract or within labor union guidelines, then they can be hired and fired at will, so long as it is not due to unlawful discrimination.

It is unknown under which of these instances Leal was hired.   However, since the murder charges were brought, Leal has been fired from his Bon Appetít position working in Prentiss dining hall.

Bon Appetít’s General Manager Rodger Edens refused to provide any reasons for the Leal’s firing.   All he shared was that “Mr. Leal has been terminated.”

Bourque refused to give any information regarding the firing of Leal, saying, “Bon Appetít doesn’t provide information about employment matters, as this information is confidential to the company.”

When asked, Bon Appetít employees also refused to answer any questions about Johnny Leal per order of the management.

In spite of the ambiguity regarding Leal’s employment with Bon Appetít, general sentiments of sympathy were shared by the company regarding the altercation between Leal and Ramirez.

Edens said, “Everyone I’ve talked to has been shocked and dismayed at the incident and feel[s] for all those whose lives have been impacted.”