Citing numerous instances of alleged reckless behavior, safety lapses and chaos on the set of “Rust,” New Mexico prosecutors on Tuesday filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the film’s star, Alec Baldwin, and armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed.
In charging documents released Tuesday, the New Mexico prosecutors placed much of the blame for the tragedy on Baldwin, arguing that he was directly responsible for the shooting that claimed the life of the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. If convicted, he and Gutierrez Reed could each face a mandatory five-year prison sentence.
Beyond his role as star of the western, Baldwin also acted as a producer who was responsible to ensure safety on the set, the prosecutors argued.
“On the day of the shooting alone, evidence shows that no less than a dozen acts, or omissions of recklessness, occurred in the short time prior to lunch and the time of the shooting,” the prosecutors wrote in the probable cause statement to support the charges against Baldwin.
First assistant director David Halls was also charged with negligent use of a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor. Halls pleaded no contest in exchange for a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation. His plea agreement is pending approval by a judge.
The filings, which were announced earlier this month by New Mexico’s First Judicial Dist. Atty. Mary Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, give greater detail and insight into the high-profile charging decisions.
Baldwin declined to comment. The actor has previously denied responsibility for the tragedy, saying that Hutchins instructed him to point the gun at the crew, that he never pulled the trigger and that his role as a producer was limited to creative decisions.
But prosecutors rejected those arguments.
They detailed a list of protocols and industry standards in weapons handling that Baldwin allegedly breached, including needlessly firing the weapon during rehearsal. They alleged the “30 Rock” star was not present for required firearms training before filming started on the movie and that he was distracted on the phone during training sessions. They also said he failed to follow standard safety checks between the armorer and himself and breached protocol by directly pointing the firearm at Hutchins and director Joel Souza, who was also injured.
“Baldwin acted with willful disregard of the safety of others and in a manner that endangered other people,” the prosecutors said.
Further, prosecutors said, after the shooting, Baldwin gave conflicting accounts, initially telling deputies he fired the gun, but then saying in media interviews that the gun had gone off without him firing it. Photos and videos show Baldwin with his finger on the trigger, and an FBI analysis showed the gun could not accidentally fire, the prosecutors said.
Additionally, prosecutors criticized Baldwin over the hiring of Gutierrez Reed, who they said lacked proper training and experience and was asked to take on other duties beyond her armorer responsibilities.
In charging Gutierrez Reed, the prosecutors alleged she was responsible for all firearm safety and that she failed to address various safety issues that culminated in the fatal shooting.
“Gutierrez Reed directly contributed and/or failed to mitigate numerous reckless and dangerous actions in the course of a very short time period,” prosecutors wrote in their probable cause document.
They said that Gutierrez Reed should have taken steps to provide more weapons training for Baldwin and to correct safety violations, such as pointing the gun at people and having his finger on the trigger, and criticized her for not being present during the rehearsal when the incident occurred.
“Her absence from the set allowed the reckless behavior to happen and continue, resulting in the fatal shooting,” the prosecutors wrote.
She also did not unload the firearm in front of Halls and Baldwin, including demonstrating each bullet was a dummy, as she was required to do.
“Reed failed to do this and should have demanded, as armorer, it be done,“ they said.
They added that, in addition to the spent round, five unspent live bullets were found in various locations, and that it was Gutierrez Reed’s job to keep live ammunition away from the set.
In a statement, attorneys for Gutierrez Reed defended her actions, saying she had pleaded for extra training and more time to focus on her armorer duties and that her recommendations such as using a plastic gun during the rehearsal were rebuffed.
“The filed probable cause statement reveals that the district attorney has completely misunderstood the facts and has reached the wrong conclusions,” said her attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion in a statement. “She was denied and brushed aside. The tragedy of this is had Hannah just been called back into the church by Halls, she would have performed the inspection and prevented this tragedy. We will fight these charges and expect that a jury will find Hannah not guilty.”
The plans to file charges had already drawn a mixed reaction in Hollywood. Several actors, including some in SAG-AFTRA, which represents thousands of performers, railed against the decision, arguing that gun safety is not the actor’s responsibility. Others noted Baldwin was a producer on the movie and may have had greater insight into the state of the production.
Earlier in the day of the deadly shooting, the camera crew walked off the set following a dispute over pay and working conditions, including accidental gun discharges.
The next step following the filing of charges will involve each defendant being summoned to and requiring a so-called first appearance — akin to an arraignment. This may be done virtually, with dates set by the court, the district attorney’s office said previously.
After that, a preliminary hearing will be held where the judge takes on the role of a grand jury and decides whether the prosecutors can take their case to trial. While the court has yet to set those dates, preliminary hearings typically occur within 60 days of charges being filed.
Meanwhile, several of the members of the production, including Halls and Gutierrez Reed, were recently deposed as part of an investigation by New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau.
In September, New Mexico’s workplace health and safety bureau levied its maximum $136,793 fine against Rust Productions LLC. It alleged the production’s managers “demonstrated plain indifference” to employee safety. The production appealed against the allegations saying that the penalties were not warranted.
In his deposition viewed by The Times, Halls, who said he has retired from the industry since the incident, gives a different account of the shooting than Baldwin has delivered publicly.
The first assistant director told the attorneys in the deposition in December that it was Gutierrez Reed who had handed the gun to Baldwin, and he denied calling out “cold gun” to announce the weapon was safe to use.
Instead, he said, it was Gutierrez Reed who used that terminology and handed the weapon to Baldwin. Halls said he did not see the armorer load the weapon, but that she had shown him the gun already loaded with what he believed to be dummy rounds.
“Hannah made a creative decision that, you know, dummy rounds should be in there to make sure that the gun looks like it’s loaded,” Halls said in deposition, first reported by Variety.
That contradicts Baldwin’s account. Baldwin has said Halls told him that it was a “cold gun,” meaning its cylinder had been checked to ensure it was safe to use, and had handed it to him.
Halls declined to place the blame on any one person. Halls said it was Hutchins who directed Baldwin to point the gun in her direction.
“It’s just a series of tragic mistakes that happened, number one, a live round of ammunition ending up on a film set, there are all sorts of things that you cannot put sole responsibility on one person,” Halls said in the deposition.