More and more information keeps coming to the surface in the aftermath of actor/producer Alec Baldwin shooting and killing the director of photography on the set of his new movie Rust, and wounding the director at the same time. Reports say that the Baldwin production cut corners, had multiple firearm mishaps and safety protocols “were all but ignored.”
The first reports after the shooting indicated that it involved a prop gun with blanks that misfired. We now know Baldwin had a live gun with at least one live cartridge.
And according to numerous press reports, Halyna Hutchins’ death appears to be the culmination of multiple negligent discharges.
The Daily Beast brings the latest . . .
There were at least two prior incidents of a gun being misfired on the set of the upcoming Western film Rust in the days leading up to Alec Baldwin discharging a prop gun on Thursday that killed the film’s cinematographer and injured the director, The Daily Beast has learned…
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Baldwin, who was both an actor and producer on the film, fired the prop gun that reportedly had a live round among the blanks…
But according to a knowledgeable production source, Hutchins’ death was avoidable, as they told The Daily Beast that within the past week there had been at least two previous incidents of firearms being misfired on set. The Los Angeles Times reported there was an additional misfiring the previous week.
“They had two negligent discharges on the same set, on the same day and still had jobs,” the source told The Daily Beast, clarifying same-day misfirings occurred on Saturday. “They had struck out twice and were given a third opportunity.”
I’ve attended more than one class where a student cranked off a negligent discharge and the class host discretely, but promptly asked the offender to clear their gun, pack their gear and go home.
Clearly something was, ahem, not as safe as it could have been on the Baldwin movie set.
The source points to producers trying to cut costs on the low-budget film as being a direct cause for the accident. Already, six hours before the tragic incident, seven International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union camera crew workers had walked off set in protest of the abysmal conditions…
“They did everything they absolutely could to save a nickel at all costs,” the inside source added. “They put everybody in jeopardy in one way or another, whether it was hiring less than qualified people to deal with firearms or it was the constant fight about housing people appropriately. In all my years of doing this, this is one of the worst productions I’ve been on.”
Oh, but it gets worse.
Producers kept Rust on a tight budget, which factored into the hiring of the armorer crew—who oversees all the weaponry on the set—according to the source. (It is not yet known which armorer company had been hired for Rust.)
Instead of hiring seasoned, union professionals because of the higher costs, the armorers were young, inexperienced, and non-union members who did not take their job as seriously as they should, the source said.
The crew had complained to the first assistant director over the prop-gun misfiring on Saturday, the source claimed. “All of us yelled at him, ‘That better be on the production report, these guys are irresponsible and shouldn’t be here,’” they explained.
Union or non-union, gun safety isn’t hard. Unless you choose to ignore it. That’s usually about the time “accidents” happen. Ultimately Baldwin, as the producer, bears at least some of the responsibility for this incident, over and above being the person who pulled the trigger on the gun.
And now there’s this from an AP story . . .
An assistant director unwittingly handed Alec Baldwin a loaded weapon and told him it was safe to use in the moments before the actor fatally shot a cinematographer, court records released Friday show.
“Cold gun,” the assistant director announced, according to a search warrant filed in a Santa Fe court.
Instead, the gun was loaded with live rounds, and when Baldwin pulled the trigger Thursday on the set of a Western, he killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her, was wounded, the records said.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office obtained the warrant Friday so investigators could document the scene at the ranch outside Santa Fe where the shooting took place. They sought Baldwin’s blood-stained costume for the film “Rust” as evidence, as well as the weapon that was fired, other prop guns and ammunition, and any footage that might exist.
The gun was one of three that the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez, had set on a cart outside the wooden structure where a scene was being acted, according to the records. Assistant director Dave Halls grabbed the gun from the cart and brought it inside to Baldwin, unaware that it was loaded with live rounds, a detective wrote in the search warrant application.
It was unclear how many rounds were fired.
Halls did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Associated Press was unable to contact Gutierrez, and several messages sent to production companies affiliated with the film were not immediately returned Friday. …
Baldwin described the killing as a “tragic accident.”
“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation,” Baldwin wrote on Twitter. “My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
No immediate charges were filed, and sheriff’s spokesman Juan Rios said Baldwin was permitted to travel.
“He’s a free man,” Rios said.
As for the question of legal liability on the part of Baldwin as a result of this tragedy, attorney Andrew Branca has an excellent analysis of the matter at Legal Insurrection . . .
I’ve received a veritable tsunami of inquiries as to my take on this tragedy, in the context of the fatal force involved—Alec Baldwin’s firing of the gun in his hand, with fatal results—presumably without any actual intent to kill the victim, Ms. Hutchins.
Could this shooting death be characterized as an accident? In fact, there is a legal defense of accident, much like there is a legal defense of self-defense for cases of intentional shootings, and both are “perfect” defenses—meaning, if accepted by legal process, the legal defense of accident frees the person of all legal liability (both criminal and civil).
So, perhaps this was an innocent accident, in the legal sense, and Alec Baldwin ought to bear no legal responsibility, either criminally or civilly, for the death of Ms. Hutchins.
On the other hand, perhaps this shooting death is more accurately characterized as negligent, or perhaps even reckless—and if reckless, then certainly as involuntary manslaughter, which New Mexico law defines (in the context of this case) as an unlawful killing committed “in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death … without due caution and circumspection.”
Under New Mexico law involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony normally punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Click here to read Branca’s complete analysis.