The local district attorney is making things very clear when it comes to the fatal shooting on the set of Alec Baldwin’s movie “Rust” — nothing is off the table at this point.
Santa Fe First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack Altwies told ABC, “We haven’t ruled out anything. Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table.”
As we reported, according to the affidavit behind the search warrant, the armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, put the gun that was used on a cart with two other guns because of COVID protocols. The scene was being filmed inside a building. The assistant director, Dave Halls, then picked up the gun and declared it a “cold gun” to let people know it was safe and, at some point, handed it to Baldwin. But the director, Joel Souza, said they then went on a lunch break after it was declared a “cold gun” and the director said that he didn’t know if it was checked when they came back. After they came back from lunch, Baldwin fired the gun, with a projectile striking cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and then hitting director Joel Souza who was standing behind her.
Hutchins died and Souza was wounded but has since been released from the hospital and has been providing information on what happened. Both Halls and Baldwin said they didn’t know the gun was loaded.
There have been troubling reports about gun issues on the set including that Baldwin was practicing a cross draw that required him to aim at the camera (and thus toward the cinematographer and the director behind her), that the same gun was used for target practice earlier that day by crew to go shooting at beer cans, that live ammunition was stored near blanks, that both the armorer and the assistant director had prior incidents with concerns about safety, and that there were three accidental discharges of guns including two from Alec Baldwin’s stunt double.
When they are looking at civil and criminal liability, they’re going to be looking at things like who was involved in the chain of custody of the gun, who had responsibility, and who knew what about the alleged gun safety issues on the set.
If there were safety issues that the producers should have known about and they did nothing, that could be a problem for anyone who might have responsibility for the film, including the producers, one of whom is Baldwin.
In discussing the case, George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley pointed out New Mexico’s involuntary manslaughter statute.
New Mexico has a provision that allows “involuntary manslaughter” charges for “the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection.” If there was a pattern of neglect, including prior discharges from these prop weapons, the producers could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Such a charge is a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico, with a penalty of 18 months jail time and up to $5,000 in fines.
So, when the DA is talking about possible criminal charges, that might be one possibility hanging out there, depending upon what they find in the investigation.
One has to think there are going to be civil actions coming as well. Because there was some kind of a round in the gun, there were axiomatically going to be questions about negligence, as Turley notes. But added to that are all the other reports about safety issues.
The production company is denying knowledge of any prior safety complaints.
In a statement released last week, Rust Movie Productions LLC said it was not aware of prop safety complaints. The producers told the crew they are “conducting an internal review of safety protocols,” but declined to comment on any reports about the set that have appeared in the media since the shooting.
“As with any ongoing investigation, we are limited in our ability to say anything further publicly or privately, and ask for your patience in that regards,” they wrote.