June 16, 2024

Alec Baldwin “Rust” Shooting: The Legal War

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Alec Baldwin is breathing a sigh of relief after prosecutors dropped two charges of involuntary manslaughter against him. The charges stem from a fatal shooting in October 2021 on the set of Rust, his latest movie. The tragic accident occurred when Baldwin discharged a firearm with a live round. The shot killed Halyna Hutchins, a 42-year-old cinematographer on the film. Director Joel Souza was also hit but suffered a non-life-threatening injury. Baldwin supports that he never pulled the trigger. Furthermore, even if he had, no live rounds were supposed to be on set, let alone in any weapon.

According to Baldwin, they were setting up what he calls “marking shots.” This is a “practice run” just before filming a scene. In describing the incident to ABC News, the actor says they were trying to get the angle of his gun just right. According to Baldwin, Hutchins kept telling him to point the barrel more toward her. Hutchins was several feet away from Baldwin, behind the camera. The actor says Hutchins repeatedly told him to aim a little higher, a little lower, and such. Finally, Baldwin says, she told him to point the gun barrel just under her armpit. He says that Hutchins also asked him to slowly cock the hammer back, a little more each time. 

Alec Baldwin Film Turns Deadly

While Rust began filming on October 6, 2021, Alec Baldwin joined the set a week later, on October 11. One day later, Baldwin posted about the film on his Instagram account. The actor looked scruffy and tired, and made fun of his gray beard. However, he was enthusiastic about the project and the crew. According to Baldwin, that same day he posted on Instagram, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, 24, the armorer (the person in charge of all weapons on set), gave him a safety demonstration. He recalls details such as remembering to fake kickback on the gun.

Since blank rounds don’t move your hand, Reed allegedly reminded Baldwin to make the weapon recoil by jerking his hand upwards. He also noted that Reed instructed him on other matters that seemed standard. These included only ever handing or receiving a weapon from her or Dave Halls, the film’s first assistant director. Baldwin maintains that filming was going well, despite the tight budget of about $5 million. As such, he has said, everyone was expected to pull their weight, and armorer Gutierrez-Reed was no exception. In addition to being an armorer, she was also the assistant prop master. This is highly unusual on a high-budget film, though Baldwin says it’s standard on low-budget movies.

A Tragic Accident

However, despite Baldwin’s assertion that the production was lean but tight, crew members did raise issues. Just days before the tragedy, first camera assistant Lane Looper emailed production managers his resignation letter, citing “safety concerns.” Luper wrote, “During the filming of gunfights on this job, things are often played very fast and loose.” He went on to say, “So far there have been two accidental weapons discharges.” Luper also cited concerns about long commutes, stress, housing, and inadequate rest.

Additionally, The Hollywood Reporter learned that Halls, the assistant director who handed Baldwin the prop gun and yelled “cold gun,” was fired from an earlier indie film in 2019 following another prop gun discharge. A producer on Freedom’s Path said that during filming, “a crewmember incurred a minor and temporary injury when a gun was unexpectedly discharged.” After the incident, Halls “was removed from set.”

On October 21, 2021, the day of the accident, Luper and several other crew members walked off the set. Filming went on with a replacement camera crew. The deadly scene began just after lunch, and besides being down to one camera, all seemed well. Baldwin recounts how he drew the gun as scripted, pointed it toward Hutchins, drew back the hammer, and then let it go when they got the shot. Next, “Bang, the gun goes off.” Baldwin says, “She goes down. I thought to myself, did she faint?”

Baldwin & Gutierrez-Reed Plead Not Guilty

Both Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed have pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charges. In January 2023, assistant director David Halls signed a plea agreement for negligent use of a deadly weapon. The terms include a suspended sentence and six months of probation. No charges are being filed in connection with Souza’s injury. As of April 2023, newly appointed special prosecutors in the case confirmed charges have been dropped against the actor, though noted their investigation remains “active and ongoing.” Baldwin’s charges of involuntary manslaughter were dropped “without prejudice,” meaning that prosecutors could refile charges against the actor after their investigation.

Two charges of involuntary manslaughter against armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed are still pending. Santa Fe County Sheriff Adam Mendoza says he recovered three guns and 500 rounds of ammo from the set. He revealed that there was “a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting [are] live rounds.” On Jan. 12, 2022, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed sued the gun shop owner she bought the ammo from. She accused him of distributing “boxes of ammunition purporting to contain dummy rounds, but which contained a mix of dummy and live ammunition.”

Additionally, the attorney for Gutierrez-Reed cites Hannah’s dual position on the film as problematic, saying that she was “stretched.” Baldwin’s legal team asserts that she or anyone else raised safety or other issues with him at no time. “We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin, and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” said attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro in a statement. Filming of Rust is slated to resume this week, having moved from New Mexico to Montana.

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