'Rust' movie receives maximum fine for gun safety failures in Alec Baldwin shooting

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Alec Baldwin's ill-fated movie "Rust" was hit Wednesday with the maximum possible fine by state safety officials in New Mexico for violations on the set that contributed to the death of a cinematographer.

A report released by the state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau blasted "Rust" producers for "plain indifference" and noted they "willfully violated" known industry safety protocols in imposing a nearly $137,000 fine for firearms safety failures. During a hasty rehearsal last October, actor and producer Baldwin discharged a replica Colt that killed 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.

In particular, the report indicates that the young armorer on the set, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, was not given the chance to perform her job. Reed was not in the church on the Old West set when the gun was handed to Baldwin and then went off.

"Rust 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 said.

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An aerial photo of the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of a Western being filmed at the ranch, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutcins.
An aerial photo of the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of a Western being filmed at the ranch, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutcins.

On Wednesday, Gutierrez Reed's lawyer said the incident could have been averted. "Had anyone from production called Hannah in back into the church before the scene to consult with her, this tragedy would have been prevented," her lawyer Jason Bowles told USA TODAY in a statement.

The scathing narrative of safety failures included testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set prior to the fatal shooting. The bureau also documented gun safety complaints from crew members that went unheeded and said weapons specialists were not allowed to make decisions about additional safety training.

"What we had, based on our investigators' findings, was a set of obvious hazards to employees regarding the use of firearms and management's failure to act upon those obvious hazards," Bob Genoway, bureau chief for occupational safety, told The Associated Press.

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Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died on Oct. 21, 2021, in New Mexico after Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm on the set of "Rust." She was 42.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died on Oct. 21, 2021, in New Mexico after Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm on the set of "Rust." She was 42.

The accidental shooting immediately shuttered the set of the low-budget Western and launched a series of lawsuits that have yet to be resolved. The OSHA ruling is likely to factor into the ongoing litigation, experts say.

"This investigation confirms what we have heard previously about the 'Rust' set, that it was in chaos and that there were almost no safeguards regarding gun safety," said personal injury lawyer Miguel Custodio of the Los Angeles-based firm Custodio & Dubey, who is not involved in the case. "When there is a completely separate government agency that has determined that this production company was negligent with regard to their safety protocols, it makes it easier for plaintiffs to gain ground in their lawsuits and for the DA to justify criminal charges."

Neama Rahmani, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said the report means the case "just went from a layup to a slam dunk and is really now an ironclad case. ... If you don't take care of firearms, you’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.”

Rust Movie Productions said it would dispute the findings and sanction.

"While we appreciate OSHA's time and effort in its investigation, we disagree with its findings and plan to appeal," said production spokesperson Stefan Friedman. Any appeal would be heard initially by the state's occupational health and safety commission.

An attorney for Baldwin was not immediately available.

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Alec Baldwin and the producers of "Rust" are facing multiple lawsuits in the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins.
Alec Baldwin and the producers of "Rust" are facing multiple lawsuits in the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins.

The tragedy unfolded early at a well-known movie ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021. Shortly after a lunch break, Baldwin went to rehearse inside a small church and soon found himself pointing a gun at Hutchins.

Baldwin said in a December interview with ABC News that he was directing the gun at Hutchins at her instruction on the set of the Western film when it went off without his pulling the trigger.

The OSHA report confirms that a large-caliber revolver was handed to Baldwin by an assistant director, David Halls, without consulting on-set weapons specialist Gutierrez Reed during or after the gun was loaded.

Regulators note that Halls also served as safety coordinator and that he was present and witnessed two accidental discharges of rifles on set, and that he and other managers who knew of the misfires took no investigative, corrective or disciplinary action. Crew members expressed surprise and discomfort.

"The safety coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns," the report stated. "Management was provided with multiple opportunities to take corrective actions and chose not to do so. As a result of these failures, director Joel Souza and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were severely injured. Halyna Hutchins succumbed to her injuries."

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The state fine applies to a film with a budget of about $7 million. Baldwin was assigned a salary of $250,000 as an actor and producer and may have put some of that money back into the production.

At least five lawsuits have been filed over the shooting, including a wrongful death suit brought by Hutchins' family against Baldwin and the movie's other producers. The lawsuit filed on behalf of widower Matt Hutchins and his 9-year-old son alleges a "callous" disregard in the face of safety complaints on the set.

James Kenney, secretary of the Environment Department that oversees occupational safety, said the agency dedicated 1,500 staff hours to its investigation, examined hundreds of documents and conducted at least a dozen interviews with cast and crew members.

Investigators found production managers placed tight limits on resources for a small team that controlled weapons on set and failed to address concerns about a shotgun left unattended twice.

Armorer Gutierrez Reed, the daughter of a sharpshooter and consultant to film productions, was limited to eight paid days as an armorer to oversee weapons and training, and was assigned otherwise to lighter duties as a props assistant. As her time as an armorer ran out, Gutierrez Reed warned a manager and was rebuffed.

Gutierrez Reed is both a plaintiff and a defendant in lawsuits seeking damages in the fatal shooting.

Safety investigators also note that the production company did not develop a process to ensure live rounds of ammunition were not brought on set, in violation of industry safety protocols. Safety meetings were conducted, but not every day weapons were used, as required.

Kenney said the separate investigations into possible criminal charges are still underway. The Santa Fe County sheriff and local prosecutors had no immediate comment. He said his agency received no direct safety complaints from cast or crew prior to the fatal shooting, even though anonymity is offered.

"This tragedy, this loss of life, it could have been prevented, and we want people to say something," he said.

Kenney was appointed in 2019 by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a staunch advocate for the film industry who increased a state cap in industry incentives shortly after taking office.

New Mexico competes with non-Hollywood production sites in states such as Georgia, Louisiana and New York. Film productions have flocked to New Mexico in recent years to seize on its diverse outdoor scenery, moderate costs and generous state incentives, including a rebate of between 25% and 35% of in-state spending for video production that helps filmmakers large and small underwrite their work.

Contributing: Morgan Lee, The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Rust' gets max fine in Alec Baldwin shooting for gun safety failures