Actor Alec Baldwin and a weapons specialist will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a New Mexico movie set, prosecutors announced Thursday, citing a “criminal disregard for safety.”
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies issued a statement announcing the charges against Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who supervised weapons on the set of the Western Rust.
Halyna Hutchins died shortly after being wounded during rehearsals at a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins when the gun went off, killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza.
Assistant director David Halls, who handed Baldwin the gun, has signed an agreement to plead guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon, the district attorney’s office said.
The decision to charge Baldwin marked a stunning fall for an A-list actor whose 40-year career included the early blockbuster The Hunt for Red October and a starring role in the sitcom 30 Rock, as well as iconic appearances in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed and a film adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengary Glen Ross. In recent years, he was known for his impression of former President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.
The district attorney said Baldwin’s involvement as a producer and as the actor who fired the gun weighed in the decision to file charges.
“This set was really being run pretty fast and loose, and he knew or he should have known that there had been misfires, that there were safety concerns, that multiple people had brought them up,” Carmack-Altwies told The Associated Press in an interview. The fact that Baldwin was “the actor that held the gun, that pointed the gun and that pulled the trigger” also contributed.
Involuntary manslaughter can involve a killing that happens while a defendant is doing something that is lawful but dangerous and is acting negligently or without caution.
The charge is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine under New Mexico law. The charge also includes a provision that could result in a mandatory five years in prison because the offence was committed with a gun.
The district attorney said charges will be filed by the end of January, and that Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be issued a summons to appear in court. She said prosecutors will forgo a grand jury and rely on a judge to determine if there is probable cause to move toward trial.
Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor on the case, cited a “pattern of criminal disregard for safety” on the set.
“If any one of these three people – Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or David Halls – had done their job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple,” Reeb said.
Baldwin’s attorney said the charges represented “a terrible miscarriage of justice.”
The actor “had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun – or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win,” Luke Nikas said in a statement.
As the film’s armorer, Gutierrez-Reed had the authority to bring rehearsals to a halt if safety standards were not being met, according to the district attorney.
She loaded the gun and “absolutely should have noticed” the difference between a live and a dummy round, Carmack-Altwies said.
An attorney for Gutierrez-Reed said the charges were “the result of a very flawed investigation and an inaccurate understanding of the full facts.”
“We intend to bring the full truth to light and believe Hannah will be exonerated of wrongdoing by a jury,” Jason Bowles said.
It was unclear when Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed might be required to appear in court in Santa Fe once charges are filed. Defendants can participate remotely in many initial court proceedings or seek to have their first appearance waived.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, who led the initial investigation into Hutchins’ death, has described “a degree of neglect” on the film set. But he left decisions about potential criminal charges to prosecutors after delivering the results of a year-long investigation in October. That report did not specify how live ammunition wound up on the film set.
Baldwin has described the killing as a “tragic accident.”
He sought to clear his name by suing people involved in handling and supplying the loaded gun. Baldwin, also a co-producer on “Rust,” said he was told the gun was safe.
In his lawsuit, Baldwin said that while working on camera angles with Hutchins, he pointed the gun in her direction and pulled back and released the hammer of the weapon, which discharged.
New Mexico’s Office of the Medical Investigator determined the shooting was an accident following the completion of an autopsy and a review of law enforcement reports.
New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau levied the maximum fine against Rust Movie Productions based on a string of safety failures, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires of blank ammunition on the set prior to the shooting.
Regulators say production managers on the set failed to follow standard industry protocols for gun safety. Rust Movie Productions continues to challenge the $137,000 fine.
Investigators initially found 500 rounds of ammunition at the movie set – a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what appeared to be live rounds. Industry experts have said live rounds should never be on set.
Hutchins’ family – widower Matthew Hutchins and son Andros – settled a lawsuit against producers under an agreement that aims to restart filming with Matthew Hutchins serving as executive producer.
In a statement issued by their attorney, relatives thanked authorities for seeking the charges. “It is a comfort to the family that, in New Mexico, no one is above the law,” they said.
The Screen Actors Guild said guns are provided to actors by expert professionals who are “directly responsible” for safety.
“The prosecutor’s contention that an actor has a duty to ensure the functional and mechanical operation of a firearm on a production set is wrong and uninformed. An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert,” the union said in a statement.
The district attorney said Baldwin “was handed a loaded gun. Whether it’s loaded with dummies or live ammunition, it is on him.”
Criminal charges have rarely been filed in connection with deaths on film sets.
A district attorney in North Carolina cited negligence as a factor but decided against charges in the 1993 death of Brandon Lee while filming a scene in the movie The Crow. The son of martial-arts legend Bruce Lee was hit by a .44-calibre slug from a gun that was supposed to have fired a blank.
More recently, film director Randall Miller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in the death of assistant camera operator Sarah Jones, who was hit by a train in the 2014 filming of Midnight Rider in rural Georgia. The production did not have permission to be on the train tracks, and Miller served half of a two-year sentence.
The shooting spurred other filmmakers to minimize risks by using computer-generated imagery of gunfire rather than real weapons with blank ammunition.