Facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter and up to five years behind bars if found guilty, Alec Baldwin and Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed are about to find themselves face-to-face in court with the director of the troubled indie Western and many members of the crew as witnesses in the criminal case against the duo for the October 2021 fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
The 44 individuals listed on Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies’ witness list for the February 24 preliminary hearing (read it here) include director Joel Souza, who was wounded on the New Mexico set by the bullet that killed Hutchins and whose name is misspelled on the recently filed document; script supervisor Maime Mitchell; armorer mentor Seth Kenney; and prop master Sarah Zachry. With Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed likely to appear virtually, the session before Judge Mary Marlowe Summer will see prosecutors lay out some of their January 31-filed case in an effort to move ahead to a trial.
Both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed have denied the charges. Long having denied he actually pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Hutchins, Baldwin and his lawyers called the DA’s case, which is based on the Sheriff’s office’s 551-page report released in November, a “terrible miscarriage of justice.” How live rounds ended up on the Rust set remains unknown to the public.
Along with a fair number of detectives and investigators involved in the Santa Fe Sheriff’s office’s year-long probe into the shooting at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, the DA’s witness list also includes FBI forensics examiners and members of the Bureau’s Explosives Unit. Noticeably, for a production that experienced labor disruptions as well as other incidents of guns going off on the set, the witness list also has the likes of former Rust camera assistant Lane Luper, who quit the film along with most of the camera department over pay and safety issues mere hours before the fatal shooting. Outspoken Rust gaffer Serge Svetnoy is also on the list.
Under New Mexico law, the first charge against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed is a fourth-degree felony with sentencing of up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The second charge, formally involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, is also a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. However, the second charge additionally carries a firearm enhancement, which gives the offense a punishing mandatory five years in state prison if Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are found guilty.
In a further twist, the DA is offering a future jury the option to choose which charge they want to center on in their deliberations.
Regardless, the presence of Mitchell on the list, as well as Kenney and Zachry, should send up warning signs for actor-producer Baldwin and Guiterrez-Reed, both of who were formally charged on January 31.
Standing close to Hutchins that terrible day in 2021 when the 1880s prop gun that Baldwin was pointing at the DoP went on, Mitchell is engaged in her own civil suit against the multiple Emmy winner and Rust producers in California courts. After proving unsuccessful in getting the claims of assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress matter dismissed or himself removed from it, Baldwin claimed all this had cost him work and countersued Mitchell and other crew members of the $7 million budget Rust with a negligence lawsuit last November.
Additionally, amidst the various Rust civil lawsuits in various jurisdictions, armorer mentor Kenney and prop master Zachry, who recently petitioned to be removed from Baldwin’s LA Superior Court countersuit, had long been seen as prospective defendants in any criminal case. Their presence on the DA’s witness list now could stand as a good indication of how deep the prosecution’s case goes against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed.
Absent from the witness list is Rust 1st assistant director David Halls.
Identified as the person who handed Baldwin the weapon and seemingly announced “cold gun” on the set just before the shooting occurred, Halls struck a plea deal with the DA’s office. Escaping further prosecution, Hall’s agreement with the DA remains under seal.
The witness list was released February 3, just days after the Santa Fe District Attorney had formally charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed for the tragic 2021 shooting of Hutchins. Amid a flurry of documents on the docket of the courts in the Land of Enchantment, DA Carmack-Altwies stated that her office believes the duo did not follow required safety procedures and acted in “a negligent manner.”
Baldwin, Gutierrez-Reed and many of the cast and crew on the witness list are key players in different ways in the Rust tragedy, which also triggered an almost immediate investigation by the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau after the shooting. Issuing the maximum fine allowed by law, the OSHA probe released in April bluntly concluded was that there was “a complete failure of the employer [Georgia-based Rust Movie Productions LLC] to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”
The company is appealing the ruling and the nearly $137,000 fine.
Even in that context, the criminal charges, coupled with the damning OSHA report, reveal a complex picture of what actually happened on the set of the indie Western and who could be to blame for it.
Here is a detailed account, pieced together from reports by the Santa Fe Sheriff’s office, the FBI, the DA, and OSHA along with interview transcripts as well as public statements, which sheds light on Carmack-Altwies’ decision to appoint a special prosecutor and to charge Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed. This analysis aims to spotlight circumstances that could be used by the accused duo or against them, and how a number of the witnesses fit into the story as their testimonies could be key for the outcome of the case.
The criminal charges against Baldwin say that he, “by act or omission or failure to act in his position as a producer, directly contributed and/or failed to mitigate numerous reckless and dangerous actions during a very short time period.”
As the armorer on set, Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for the storage, maintenance and handling of firearms and ammunition, training members of the cast – including a child actor – who would be handling firearms, and loading the firearms with dummies and blanks.
“In this circumstance it is common practice for any actor handling or firing a weapon to check for safety,” state the criminal charges filed by Carmack-Altwies. “The armorer’s role is to provide that proper safe handling and management in order for them to do so. Gutierrez-Reed not only failed in this regard but was not even present. This ultimately was exaggerated by the weapon being used by Baldwin in an unsafe manner in close proximately to cast and crew ultimately pointing the weapon, in violation of the most cross-industry established safety rule, at Halyna and firing. All these actions knowingly without an armorer present against industry safety standards, practice and Union regulations.”
But Gutierrez-Reed was being pulled in two directions: She had another job as well, as key assistant prop master, and her bosses thought she was spending too much time on the former – at higher pay – and not enough on the latter.
On October 9, 2021, 12 days before the shooting, Gutierrez-Reed texted Gabriel Pickle, the film’s line producer, “…about the amount of Armorer days the Employer was willing to pay her for since she had already completed three Armorer days at the Armorer rate,” the bureau’s report says. “Ms. Gutierrez-Reed informed Ms. Pickle that she still had to train some actors, including actor/producer Alec Baldwin, and spend time maintaining the guns to ensure they work for future scenes.” She also told Pickle,
“It’s just a very gun heavy script and we have to make sure people are trained and guns are ready.”
Pickle responded the same day: “Let me talk to Row” – Katherine “Row” Walters, the unit production manager.
Later that day, Gutierrez-Reed texted Pickle about the guns and her weapons training of the child actor. “Any news? I at least have to clean them [the guns] and train the kid tomorrow [October 11] because it’s our last day and we have a big fight scene Wednesday [October 13].”
Pickle responded the same day and asked, “How many Armor (sic) days are you requesting?”
Gutierrez-Reed responded: “At least a cleaning day after the big battles…We already had guns jamming yesterday…I just feel like it’ll end up being 10 Armorer days by the end of it…Any day I’m shooting, training or having to clean for the next battle should be an Armorer day.”
Reid Russell, the steady cam operator who was standing closest to Hutchins when she was killed, told a Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department investigator that “Alec was really safe” with guns on set – especially around child actors. According to the investigator’s report, Russell “explained a scene a week before the incident, where there was a boy on set and Alec said he didn’t want the boy near a live gun when it was his turn to fire the gun. Alec had informed the camera crew he wanted the kid removed and away from the gunfire.”
New Mexico state law says “it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a New Mexico certified trainer or technician accredited in a United States department of labor occupational safety and health administered-certified safety program at the place of employment at all times when a child performer may be exposed to potentially hazardous conditions. Hazardous conditions are special effects, which potentially could be physically dangerous to the child performer.”
The bureau’s report notes that on October 10, the day Gutierrez-Reed was to train the child actor for the “big fight scene,” Pickle informed her “that she was allowed eight paid days at the Armorer’s rate in her contract to perform Armorer tasks; the rest of her time was to be spent as the Props Assistant, despite Ms. Gutierrez-Reed informing Ms. Pickle that she would likely need 10 Armorer days in order to ensure all firearms on set are safely operated and maintained, and the actors have completed all necessary firearm trainings.”
On that same day, Sarah Zachary, the film’s property master, told Seth Kenney, who supplied weapons for the production – and who got Gutierrez-Reed the job – that the young armorer “is leaving town to party in Denver, and she’s asking for extra pay as an armorer,” according to a police report. (Kenney is no relation to New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney.)
RELATED: Santa Fe Sheriff Releases ‘Rust’ Police Report, Detailing Chaos On Set Of Indie Western
Earlier that morning, the film’s director, Souza, who was wounded by Baldwin in the incident that killed Hutchins, and Walters each sent emails to the cast and crew calling for a safety meeting prior to that day’s shoot. “I know we’ve been running like crazy the past 2 days to get the first shot up,” Walters wrote, “but I need us to do morning safety meetings. Below are a couple of bullet points from Joel and myself that we’d like covered for today since it’s a big stunt day.”
Those bullet points, she wrote, included working with and around horses, snake safety, dehydration, stunt rigging and “live fire and firearms. I’d like Hannah to remind people that firearms are not toys, they are real weapons.”
Souza concurred, writing: “I’d like it pointed out that we are firing weapons today, and what that means…When weapons are taken out on set each day I would like it announced. And I’m pretty certain this is happening, but I’d like to make sure that every time an actor is handed a weapon they are shown clearly that it is either empty or loaded.”
On that day, as on every day but the last day, all the weapons being fired were assumed to be shooting blanks. But after a thorough police search of the filming locale – the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe – a Sheriff’s Department report notes that “five functional live cartridges were found on the set of Rust, not to include the cartridge fired from the revolver by Alec Baldwin.”
SAG-AFTRA rose to Baldwin’s defense this month, saying that that the pending criminal charges against him are “wrong and uninformed,” and that it is the responsibility of the employer, not performers, to ensure safety on the set.
On October 14, 2021, the day after the “big fight scene” and a week before the fatal shooting, Gutierrez-Reed had a conversation with Cindy Niedland, the studio teacher on the set. According to the police report, the teacher “asked about the blanks being used, and if they are purchased or re-made from live-ammo, and about the decibel rating of them. Hannah responds and says the blanks are purchased as blanks, industry standard, and states there has never been a projectile in them.”
That same day, Pickle emailed Gutierrez-Reed addressing her armorer and prop duties, stating, “It has been brought to my attention that you are focusing far more on armor and not supporting props as needed.”
Gutierrez-Reed responded by email that same day, stating that the armorer job was “a very serious job and since we’ve started I’ve had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone’s safety.” She also noted that “there are working guns on set every day and those are ultimately going to be a priority because when they are not, that’s when dangerous mistakes can happen.”
Two days later, on October 16, there were two firearms misfires on the set. In the first instance, Zachary, the property master, “inadvertently fired a blank round as she finished loading a .45 caliber revolver that was aimed at the ground,” according to the bureau’s report. “To return the hammer to the closed position and make the firearm safe, the operator must hold the hammer and depress the trigger, guiding the hammer to the closed position deliberately.
“In the case of the first misfire, the hammer slipped from Ms. Zachary’s thumb or fingers, likely resulting in the firing pin on the hammer striking the primer which ignited the powder, firing the blank round.”
Shortly after the Hutchins was shot and killed on October 21, Baldwin spoke to a Santa Fe Sheriff’s detective about the scene he was rehearsing when the gun went off. “Alec advised in the scene he slowly takes the gun out of the holster, then very dramatically turns it and cocks the hammer, which then goes off in his hand,” the detective wrote. During that interview, the police informed Baldwin that Hutchins had died of her wound.
In a follow-up interview a few weeks later with the actor-producer, a sheriff’s department report notes that “Alec said he ‘cocked’ the hammer back, asked Halyna if she could see it, to which she said ‘Yes.’ Alec said he pulled the hammer back about ¾ of the way, then let the hammer go, which is when the gun went off.” Baldwin has denied pulling the trigger.
Zachary, in her sheriff’s department interview, noted that approximately 25 guns were available for use on the production. The police report notes that Zachary “mentioned that there were approximately 2-3 safety meetings held during the time of the filming but didn’t recall one being held on the day of the incident.”
According to the police report, Zachary was asked “if any live ammunition was used to train, to which she said ‘No,’” and “if anyone voiced any safety concerns at this time, to which she said ‘No,’ and she did not observe anything that would be deemed unsafe.”
The second misfire on the set, which occurred October 16, involved Blake Teixiera, Baldwin’s stunt double, and a lever-action rifle. “It is not known how the misfire happened,” the police report says. “Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stated that Blake Teixiera’s only comment was ‘it just went off.’ Hannah Gutierrez-Reed described that it is probable the rifle fired by being placed onto the ground too roughly.”
After the misfires occurred October 16, Lane Luper, the film’s First Assistant Camera Operator, texted Walters informing her that “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe.”
The third accidental discharge involved a special-effects “popper,” which is a small explosive that simulates a bullet impact on a surface.
Walters responded, “Accidental discharge on the firearms?”
Luper responded, “Yeah 2 discharges today and 1 on week 1.”
According to the bureau’s report, “Walters did not ask any additional questions.” And “according to employee interviews,” Pickle, Walters and Dave Halls, the film’s first assistant director who the bureau said, “was responsible for general workplace safety” – and who has reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney – “did not investigate these incidents or try to understand how these misfires occurred, despite being aware of these discharges.”
On October 16, Zachary messaged Seth Kenney, which a Sheriff’s Department report summarized: “Sarah also says how Hannah admitted to openly ‘getting high’ last night but said her work has not been affected minus one day coming in late due to a migraine.”
On October 17, one day after the two separate misfires involving firearms, “Gutierrez-Reed informed Ms. Pickle that she was running out of paid days at the Armorer’s rate and if gunfire will continue on set, Ms. Pickle will have to speak with the producers,” the bureau’s report says.
“Ms. Pickle replied to Ms. Gutierrez-Reed by informing her that there would be ‘No more trading (sic) days’” for the actors on set.
“Ms. Gutierrez-Reed then asked her to clarify: ‘Training days?’”
“Ms. Pickle responded, ‘Like training Alec and such.’”
Three days later, on October 20, the day before the fatal shooting, “Luper resigned from Rust, due in part to safety concerns stemming from the accidental misfires,” the bureau report says. “In Mr. Luper’s resignation email, Mr. Luper stated that safety meetings were not held the day that the misfires occurred.”
Several other members of the camera crew also walked off the job with him, leaving the producers to scramble to find a nonunion replacement crew.
The next morning, October 21, just hours before the accident, Walters texted Halls, saying: “Dave, per Joel [Souza], we need safety meetings every day.”
Souza later would tell Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Detective Joel Canno that production on that fateful day got off to a late start because of the camera crew’s walkout the day before. “Joel stated that the workday started at approximately 6:30 a.m.,” Canno wrote in his report. “He went on to say that the crew usually meets for breakfast on the property. During the morning hours, the day started off late due to a camera crew that had quit and they had to find another camera crew to help film the movie. Joel said once they hired another camera crew to assist, the day was taking longer than usual because they only had one camera to do the filming.”
Things were so difficult that day that before lunch the producers had even asked the Covid production assistant if she’d be interested in working for a few days as a camera PA until they could hire a full camera crew.
But she never got the chance. Shortly after the lunch break, she and the rest of the team at base camp got word that Hutchins and Souza had been shot.
Jonas Huerta, one of the camera crew who walked off the production, cited accidental “discharges” of as one of the reasons he quit before the fatal shooting. According to a police report, “He indicated when the accidental discharges occurred [a few days earlier] he felt the horses on set spooked and he almost got trampled.”
Reid Russell, the steady cam operator who was standing closest to Hutchins when she was shot, told a Sheriff’s Department investigator that Luper had written an email the day before the accident saying that he was quitting and would pick up his equipment the next morning – which turned out to be the day of the accident. Russell “said the rest of the local camera crew decided to do the same and on October 21, 2021, the camera crew took their stuff,” the police report says. The detective wrote in his report that Russell “informed me he was indecisive whether he should stay or go. Reid indicated he spoke to Halyna and she begged him to stay and persuaded him.”
In his resignation letter, Luper cited “3 areas where safety has become a massive issue and 1 area that is a personal problem. First is Covid. This movie has the most lax Covid policies I’ve personally ever seen in any business or private setting related to filmmaking. The show packs vans to full capacity with folks often wearing their masks around their chin…From the perspective of the global pandemic, this show is lacking.
“The second issue I’d like to bring up in regards to safety has to do with weapons. During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose. So far, there have been 2 accidental weapons discharges and 1 accidental SFX explosives that have gone off around the crew between takes. I personally suffer from pretty bad tinnitus and the SFX explosive sent my ears ringing until I got home. To be clear, there are NO safety meetings these days. The have been NO explanations as to what to expect for these shots. When anyone from production is asked, we are usually met with the same answers about not having enough time to complete the day if we rehearse, or that ‘this is a 21-day shoot.’”
Luper also complained about paychecks and about the lack of accommodations after a long day’s shoot, noting that his round trip to work every day is 104 miles. “I’m left with 6 hours or less of sleep a night,” he wrote, noting that “the worst phone call I could ever get would be from one of the people on my crew or their loved ones, telling me they crashed. Or worse, that person did not come in the next day because the worst happened.”
The day after Hutchins was killed, a crew member sent a text to Halls: “Which one of you dumb asses hired unqualified crew to take over once your initial crew walked due to unsafe conditions? And not a day later tragedy strikes. You failed Halyna and the entire cast and crew. It is abhorrent and disgusting the stories I hear coming out of the set. It was unsafe and unhealthy from the beginning and everyone just shrugged and carried on. Shame on you.”
In its report, the bureau found that “the Employer did not provide staff responsible for ensuring firearms safety with sufficient time to inspect ammunition received to ensure that no live rounds were present.”
The report also found that “The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to being stuck by discharged rounds or projectiles when firearms were used on the set of the motion picture production.”
The company, which the bureau fined $136,793 for its “willful and serious” violation of workplace safety procedures,” is contesting those findings, saying in May that it “was not the ‘employer’ responsible for supervising the film set, much less for supervising specific protocols such as the maintenance and loading of weapons. The law properly permits producers to delegate such critical functions as firearm safety to experts in that field and does not place such responsibility on producers whose expertise is in arranging financing and contracting for the logistics of filming. Rust Movie Productions did not ‘willfully’ violate any safety protocol, and in fact enforced all applicable safety protocols.”
Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, Jason Bowles, and her father, veteran armorer Thell Reid, have claimed that they have “evidence of motive” for sabotage but offered no proof. Dismissing such theories, law enforcement investigators have said that they’ve uncovered no evidence that the gun or ammo were intentionally tampered with. Sheriff’s department investigators even suspected that the live rounds found on the set may have inadvertently gotten into a box of blanks provided to Guttierrez-Reed by her father or his longtime friend, Kenney. Reid and Kenney insist there’s no way that could have happened.
Santa Fe Sheriff’s investigators asked numerous members of the crew if they thought someone might have “sabotaged” a box of blank ammo by putting a live round inside, and almost everyone said they thought it was unthinkable.
In late 2021, Baldwin wasn’t so sure that the cops knew what they were doing.
In a message extracted by Sheriff’s detectives from Baldwin’s phone, the actor told Matthew Hutchins, Halyna’s husband, on December 10, 2021, that it is “Important for you to keep in mind: The Santa Fe Sheriff’s office may lack both the skill and the will to properly investigate the sabotage angle. I’m told their agenda is to write it off as an accident and throw it to the civil courts. And yet, the more information that is presented to me about certain anomalies on that day, the more open-minded I become. I dismissed the sabotage claim initially, but not now.”
According to the detective’s report, when Hutchins asked him who told him about this “agenda,” Baldwin said he was told this by “multiple attorneys.” Again, law enforcement officials have found no evidence of sabotage on the set of Rust.
In the days after Guttierrez-Reed was charged, Bowles has focused on the claims that his client was stretched very thin on set, both as armorer and handling props, and told TMZ that she had asked Halls to let her know when Baldwin was going to handle the gun that fired the fatal shot so she could inspect it and give Baldwin proper instruction on how to handle the weapon. According to Bowles, that never happened, and Halls handed the gun over to the actor without following safety procedures.
In February 2022, Hutchins filed a wrongful-death suit against Baldwin and Rust Movie Productions LLC and its co-owners Smith and Langley Allen Cheney, along with many others connected to the film’s production. The suit identified Smith as the film’s producer and Cheney as its executive producer.
Not even making it to court, Hutchins’ suit was settled in early October, close to the one-year anniversary of the on-set tragedy.
“We have reached a settlement, subject to court approval, for our wrongful death case against the producers of Rust, including Alec Baldwin and Rust Movie Productions, LLC,” Hutchins and his attorneys said in a statement at the time “As part of that settlement, our case will be dismissed.” Also, as part of the settlement, Hutchins will executive produce Rust if and when it resumes production — which looks very unlikely at this point, for insurance reasons if nothing else.
More recently, it seems the tone between the Hutchins family and Baldwin and Rust producers has shifted.
After Santa Fe DA Carmack-Altwies announced on January 19 that criminal charges would be brought against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, Brian J. Panish, the attorney for Hutchins’ family, made a point of thank local law enforcement “for concluding their thorough investigation and determining that charges for involuntary manslaughter are warranted for the killing of Halyna Hutchins with conscious disregard for human life.”
Matthew Hutchins has not been named on the DA’s witness list, at least not yet. That could change if the case goes to trial.
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