Rust shooting: film’s assistant director admits gun was not thoroughly checked

In an affidavit, Dave Halls told investigators he ‘should have checked all’ the rounds as officials confirm gun contained live bullets

Officials confirmed on Wednesday that live bullets, including the round it is believed killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza, were found on the set of the movie Rust last week after actor Alec Baldwin fired a gun during a rehearsal.

It also emerged that the .45-caliber Colt – which has been described by law enforcement as a “legit” antique gun, not a prop gun – was not thoroughly checked before being given to Baldwin, who fired the lead bullet, according to officials and a new court filing.

The new details emerged during a news conference by Santa Fe’s county sheriff, Adan Mendoza and district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, and in an affidavit filed by the sheriff’s department.

According to that affidavit, the film’s assistant director Dave Halls admitted to investigators that he “should have checked all” the rounds in the gun before handing it to Baldwin but had not done so.

No decisions have been made yet about any criminal charges.

“We believe that we have, in our possession, the firearm that was fired by Mr Baldwin. This is the firearm we believe discharged the bullet,” said Mendoza at Wednesday’s press conference.

Film-makers showed “complacency” about safety on set, the sheriff said initial inquiries had led the authorities to believe. He added that his investigators believe they have also recovered “the spent shell casing from the bullet that was fired from the gun”.

The single, apparently live round that injured Souza and probably also killed Hutchins was found in Souza’s shoulder after he was treated for his injuries at a local medical center, Mendoza said when giving updates on the investigation relating to last week’s tragedy on the set in New Mexico.

Mendoza also said that officials recovered about 600 items of evidence, including three firearms and approximately 500 rounds of ammunition from the set of the desert western that was being filmed.

Two of the guns were non-functional. The third one, handed to Baldwin on the assumption it was safe, was a .45 Colt-style real antique gun.

Possible additional live rounds, including the bullet the authorities believe killed Hutchins, will be submitted to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, confirmed the sheriff.

He refused to speculate, when questioned by reporters, about what happened to result in a single bullet evidently killing one and then injuring another person.

Mendoza said more interviews still needed to be conducted, including a possible additional interview with Baldwin, whom the sheriff described as “cooperative”.

The actor was also a producer on the movie, where filming was shut down and has not resumed since Hutchins’s death.

Mendoza also confirmed that his office was investigating reports of informal incidents of target practice having taken place on or near the set before the incident, and rumors of crew members drinking the night before.

“I think the industry has had a record recently of being safe. I think there was some complacency on this set. And I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico,” Mendoza said.

He held the short press conference with the Santa Fe district attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies.

“All options are on the table … No one has been ruled out at this point,” Carmack-Altwies said, referring to potential criminal charges.

Last Thursday, a gun that Baldwin was holding mistakenly discharged ammunition while he was rehearsing a scene for the movie, noted Rust’s director in a statement to the sheriff’s office.

Baldwin was “cross drawing” the revolver from its holster while Halyna Hutchins, the film’s director of photography, and Souza were standing by, checking camera angles.

When the gun discharged, Hutchins, who was shot in the torso, was airlifted to the University of New Mexico hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Souza was wounded in the collarbone area, taken by ambulance to a medical center, and later released after treatment.

Baldwin, who had been pointing the gun at the camera, was told by crew that the gun was “a cold gun”, meaning the gun contained no ammunition and was safe to use.

“It’s a suspected live round that was fired but it did fire from the weapon and it did cause injury. That would lead us to believe it was a live round,” he said, referring to the round as a lead bullet.

Carmack-Altwies said it could take many weeks for any decisions to be made on whether any actions related to the tragedy warranted criminal charges.

The gun was also handled by Halls, and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed before Baldwin fired it.

Gutierrez-Reed, who was in charge of weapons on the set, told investigators that she had checked guns there but found no “hot rounds” – apparently meaning live ammunition – before the shooting, according to a new affidavit filed by the sheriff’s department on Wednesday.

A public vigil for Hutchins was held on Sunday in Los Angeles outside the union of which she was a member, serving as an unofficial memorial for the 42-year-old mother and film-maker as well as an outlet for frustration and anger over low pay and poor working conditions in Hollywood that many crew members believe were linked to Hutchins’ death.

Just hours before the fatal shooting, several crew members had walked out, unhappy about pay and working conditions as well as safety fears, court papers said.

Halls had been the subject of internal complaint on a previous film set. Maggie Goll, a prop maker and licensed pyrotechnician, said she had raised concerns about Hall’s conduct on set with the executive producers of Hulu’s Into the Dark TV series in 2019, where some crew were scared about their safety. He has yet to comment.

“This situation is not about Dave Halls … It’s in no way one person’s fault,” Goll said, noting that there were larger problems about the wellbeing of crew that had to be addressed. “It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture,” she added.

Further concerns were raised about Halls on Monday, after a producer who communicated with the Associated Press said Halls had been fired from a previous job after a gun went off on a film set and wounded a member of the crew.

In Los Angeles, city councilman Paul Koretz introduced a new resolution on Wednesday to support state legislation that would prohibit live guns and ammunition from production sets.

“The idea that even one misfire has caused danger is outrageous. The clear solution is banishing live guns and ammunition from the sets of television and motion picture productions to eliminate all possibility of human error in the handling of weapons so that flawless oversight and restrictions guarantee that these kinds of accidents never happen again,” Koretz said.

Maya Yang and agencies contributed reporting


Gloria Oladipo in New York

The GuardianTramp

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