New Mexico prosecutors will soon reveal whether they will bring criminal charges in the accidental deadly shooting by Alec Baldwin of a cinematographer on the set of “Rust,” a low-budget western movie.
First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, along with special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, plan to issue a written statement Thursday morning, according to the district attorney’s office. A spokesperson for Carmack-Altwies declined to say who, if anyone, will be charged.
“Regardless of the District Attorney’s decision, the announcement will be a solemn occasion, made in a manner keeping with the office’s commitment to upholding the integrity of the judicial process and respecting the victim’s family,” Heather Brewer, spokesperson for the office of the First Judicial District Attorney, said in a statement.
On Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin, the movie’s star, was rehearsing a scene in an old wooden church on a ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Halyna Hutchins, the film’s cinematographer, and Joel Souza, the director. Hutchins, who was in charge of photography, wanted to line up a camera angle to capture Baldwin slowly pulling his prop gun — a replica of a vintage Colt .45 revolver — from his leather holster and aiming it at the camera.
The gun went off, firing a bullet that pierced Hutchins’ chest, then lodged into Souza’s shoulder. Hutchins died that afternoon; Souza recovered from his injury.
Despite Hollywood film protocols that forbid live rounds on movie sets, Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators found multiple actual bullets commingled with “dummy rounds” that movie producers use to simulate the look of real projectiles.
Baldwin acknowledges pulling back the gun’s hammer, but has said he did not pull the trigger.
“Someone is responsible … but I know it’s not me,” Baldwin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in a December 2021 TV interview.
Nonetheless, some legal experts said they expect that Baldwin will be among those charged.
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputies spent nearly a year compiling evidence, which they turned over to Mary Carmack-Altwies, district attorney for New Mexico’s First Judicial District.
In August, Carmack-Altwies disclosed she was considering charging up to four people, including Baldwin. Sources have told the Los Angeles Times that prosecutors have concentrated on individuals who handled the gun that day, the weapon’s so-called “chain of custody.”
Here’s what to know about the case.
—What was the movie ‘Rust’ about?
“Rust” starts as a story of a 13-year-old boy in 1880s Kansas who accidentally shot and killed a local rancher. The boy’s grandfather — a grizzled outlaw named Harland Rust, played by Baldwin — helps him escape from jail and they set out on a dangerous journey through New Mexico while being pursued by a U.S. Marshal and bounty hunter. Souza wrote the screenplay with input from Baldwin, who received a “Story By” credit.
The 64-year-old actor also was a producer on the low-budget film, which was filming on Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular movie location south of Santa Fe.
—Who was Halyna Hutchins?
A native of Ukraine, Hutchins was the cinematographer, also known as director of photography. She grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle “surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines,” according to the bio on her personal website. She earned a degree from Kyiv National University in Ukraine and worked as an investigative journalist on British documentary productions before heading to Los Angeles.
The 42-year-old mother was succeeding in a largely male-dominated business. She was a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory and was named one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019. She worked on indie features like “Archenemy,” “Blindfire” and “The Mad Hatter” as well as short films and commercials. “Rust” was her first collaboration with Baldwin. She was survived by her husband, Matthew Hutchins; young son Andros; and family members in Ukraine.
Her death became a rallying cry across the industry for greater safety measures on film sets.
—Were there problems before the shooting?
The Times previously detailed problems that began before filmmakers arrived at Bonanza Creek Ranch in early October 2021.
Production managers struggled to recruit experienced crew members. Veteran prop master Neal W. Zoromski, who turned down a position on “Rust” in late September 2021, told The Times that he was troubled by the producers’ refusal to hire a fully staffed props department, including an armorer to handle the guns and another person as props assistant. Instead, producers insisted that one person fill both jobs. Nearly a dozen experienced prop masters or armorers turned down a job on “Rust.”
Most of the camera crew opted to quit the production the night before the shooting over concerns of safety and a lack of lodging near Santa Fe. Days before the shooting, the camera crew leader sent a text message to a production manager to complain about accidental gun discharges. “This is super unsafe,” Lane Luper wrote in an Oct. 16, 2021, text message to the unit production manager.
—Who was the film’s armorer?
Production managers hired Hannah Gutierrez Reed, then 24, to oversee all weapons and projectiles and to also serve as props assistant. Gutierrez Reed, who lives in Arizona, is a daughter of famed Hollywood armorer Thell Reed. She had grown up visiting Hollywood sets and it was her second job as head armorer; her first was a Nicolas Cage movie, “The Old Way,” which filmed in 2021.
Gutierrez Reed complained about being stretched too thin on “Rust,” according to emails with production managers. A week before the shooting, the film’s line producer, Gabrielle Pickle, scolded Gutierrez Reed in an email, saying complaints had been made about shotguns left unattended on set. Pickle also reprimanded Gutierrez Reed for allegedly not doing enough to support the film’s prop master.
According to production call sheets viewed by the Times, guns were needed on 10 of the 12 film days, with multiple guns used per day.
Gutierrez Reed has acknowledged that she loaded the weapons that day. She handed the fired weapon to sheriff’s deputies who arrived at Bonanza Creek Ranch after the shooting.
She later told sheriff’s detectives that although she checked Baldwin’s gun that day before the unscheduled rehearsal, she “didn’t really check it too much after lunch” because the weapon had been locked in a safe during the crew’s lunch break.
—Who was the assistant director?
Veteran filmmaker David Halls was the first assistant director on “Rust,” which made him the on-set safety coordinator.
He reportedly also handed the loaded weapon to Baldwin. According to a sheriff’s deputy’s affidavit for a search warrant, after the crew was returning from lunch that day, Halls “grabbed one of the three ‘prop guns’ that was set-up by the Amorer (Hannah Guttierez), which was on a cart” parked outside the wooden church. Halls took the gun inside the church. As he “handed the gun to the Actor Alec Baldwin, (Dave Halls) yelled ‘Cold Gun,’ indicating the prop-gun did not have any live rounds,” according to the affidavit.
Halls told deputies he was unaware the weapon contained live rounds.
An industry veteran with credits dating to the early ’90s, Halls has worked on films such as “Balls of Fury,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Bad Santa,” “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Fargo.” In a grim coincidence, he worked as the first assistant director on the second unit of the 2000 movie “The Crow: Salvation,” the sequel to “The Crow,” the film on which Brandon Lee died in an on-set gun accident in 1993.
In a lawsuit filed late last year, Halls said that he was “in no way actionably liable for the events and occurrences” on the set of “Rust” that day, instead, he blamed the armorer, prop master and weapons and ammunition supplier.
—Why were there live bullets on set?
How live bullets got on the set remains a crucial unanswered question. Movie producers don’t normally use live bullets to simulate gunfire, but court documents in the case reflect the recovery of dozens of live rounds mixed with the film’s supply of dummy bullets and blanks.
Neither sheriff’s nor FBI reports have identified the source of the live ammunition. Seth Kenney and his Albuquerque-based firm PDQ Arm & Prop were the primary guns and ammunition supplier to the film, but Kenney has told the Times that he did not supply live ammunition.
—Has New Mexico’s occupational safety department weighed in?
New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau delivered a stinging rebuke of the “Rust” managers in April, levying its maximum fine of $136,793 for safety violations that led to Hutchins’ death, saying managers “demonstrated plain indifference” to employee safety on the film set.
“This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe,” New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said at the time.
The producers, through Rust Movie Productions LLC, have denied wrongdoing and the case is winding through an appeals process. A state commission has scheduled an eight-day hearing on the matter in April.
—Who are the other producers?
In addition to Baldwin, there were five other named producers: Ryan Smith, Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstern, Matt DelPiano and Anjul Nigam. Smith, through his production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, was primarily responsible for day-to-day operations, according to a lawsuit filed by Baldwin.
—Why did the Hutchins family settle their lawsuit?
Hutchins’ widower, Matthew Hutchins, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baldwin and other producers in February 2022, blaming the tragedy on cost-cutting measures and reckless behavior by Baldwin and members of the crew, including hiring inexperienced workers and disregarding safety concerns expressed during production by camera crew operators.
In October, the family reached a tentative settlement with Baldwin and other producers. Terms were not disclosed.
As part of the settlement, husband Matthew Hutchins said he would serve as an executive producer on the production.
“I have no interest in engaging in recriminations or attribution of blame (to the producers or Mr. Baldwin),” Matthew Hutchins said then. “All of us believe Halyna’s death was a terrible accident.”
—Will the movie “Rust” still be made?
Production managers have been looking to hire crew members to restart the production near Los Angeles, but the decision has been controversial. Should the district attorney bring charges against Baldwin, it could certainly complicate the production schedule.
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