Alec Baldwin’s “recklessness”, and the failure of his production team to follow basic gun safety procedures on the set of the movie Rust, led to the decision to file a criminal charge against the US actor in the death of a cinematographer, prosecutors said.
Mary Carmack-Altwies, the Santa Fe district attorney, said Baldwin, and the movie’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, violated “all of the standards that we all have to follow if we have a gun in our hands” in the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins with a prop weapon during a rehearsal in New Mexico in 2021.
Carmack-Altwies said the decision to charge the 64-year-old actor, and Rust’s 25-year-old armorer, with involuntary manslaughter, came after a months-long investigation that focused largely on how a loaded gun came to be in Baldwin’s hands, in an interview with NBC News.
“It was people acting recklessly, people not doing their jobs, people not following safety protocols, not following safety standards,” she said.
“Because of that, I would say this is not just an accident, this is a criminal accident. Prison is not necessarily the goal. What I want is justice for Halyna Hutchins, and I want people to take responsibility and take accountability for what their actions or inactions led to, and that’s Halyna Hutchins’ death.”
Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, also interviewed by NBC, dismissed Baldwin’s insistence that the gun went off when he pulled back its hammer, and that he had not pulled the trigger, intentionally or otherwise.
“Well, he definitely pulled the trigger, and that’s confirmed by the FBI report,” she said.
“He’s an actor who’s probably starred in 40-plus gun movies and said, I believe, in reports and interviews that he’s very familiar with the use of guns. That gun was not checked by him or with the armorer, which is standard protocol.
“Rules of the firearm, you don’t point a gun at somebody unless you’re intending to actually shoot them. He did all those things, which ultimately resulted in Halyna Hutchins’ death. It was because of conduct overall by him and Hannah Gutierrez, and Dave Halls’ recklessness.”
Baldwin has previously claimed that Gutierrez-Reed, and Rust’s assistant director, Halls, whom reports suggested handed the actor the weapon after declaring it cold, meaning it was unloaded, were responsible.
“Someone put a live bullet in the gun who should have known better,” Baldwin told CNN last August.
Halls has agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon and serve six months’ probation. As part of the agreement he will testify in any trial, Reeb said.
“It wasn’t obvious that he did say ‘cold gun’, and it wasn’t obvious that he actually was the one that handed it to Baldwin,” she said.
“He may have looked at the gun, which he did, but we can’t even say for sure that he actually touched that firearm.”
Reeb said she had no opinion as to what punishment Baldwin deserved.
“It’s not my call to believe whether he goes to prison or not. Our focus is to get justice for Halyna Hutchins and to let everybody know that just because you’re an A-list actor you’re not going to be above the law.”
In October, Baldwin, who rose to prominence in the 1990 movie The Hunt for Red October, and received an Oscar nomination for 2003’s The Cooler, settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Hutchins’ family for an undisclosed amount.
His attorney, Luke Nikas, said on Thursday his client “had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun” on the day Hutchins was killed, and condemned the charges against the actor as “a terrible miscarriage of justice”.
“We will fight these charges,” Nikas said. “And we will win.”
Some legal analysts say prosecutors face an uphill battle.
“Alec Baldwin has some pretty strong defenses to these charges. He was handed a gun that he was told didn’t have live bullets and that’s going to be where his defense starts,” said Miguel Custodio, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney.
“Prosecutors may have evidence that he knew there were live bullets around, because there’s pretty strong evidence that things were going haywire on this set. But he’s going to raise a defense that he was relying on his assistant director to tell him whether there were live bullets in the gun.
“And he will point the finger at the armorer whose job it was to also check whether there were live bullets in the gun.”
Gun safety on movie sets has started to improve since the Hutchins tragedy, experts say, although it appears piecemeal.
In October 2021, Rust’s director, Joel Souza, was injured by the same bullet that killed Hutchins and he described the situation at the time, in a statement, saying that Alec Baldwin was practising a scene that involved him pointing a gun “towards the camera lens” when it accidentally went off.
Souza, said he heard what “sounded like a whip and then a loud pop”. He said he saw Hutchins clutch her midriff and stumble backwards, and noticed that he was bleeding from the right shoulder. Cameras were not rolling at the time. Baldwin was sitting on a wooden church pew on the set and trying out a scene in which he would “cross-draw” a revolver from its holster. Hutchins and Souza were checking the camera angle.
Moments before the accident, Baldwin was assured he was handling a “cold gun”, Souza told investigators.
Gutierrez-Reed checked prop weapons, Halls rechecked them and handed them to the actors, Souza said. It was Halls who gave Baldwin the gun, police said.