Actor Alec Baldwin and a weapons specialist have been formally charged with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a New Mexico movie set, according to court documents filed by prosecutors on Tuesday (Jan 31).
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies filed the charging documents naming Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who supervised weapons on the set of the Western Rust, and outlined evidence that they deviated repeatedly from known safety standards.
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.
Prosecutors have said that Baldwin’s involvement as a producer and as the person who fired the gun weighed in the decision to file charges.
In recent weeks, Carmack-Altwies outlined two sets of involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the shooting.
The manslaughter charge filed on Tuesday against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed includes two alternative standards and sanctions.
One version would require proof of negligence, which is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a US$5,000 fine under New Mexico law.
The second alternative is for reckless disregard of safety “without due caution and circumspection”. It carries a higher threshold of wrongdoing and includes a “firearm enhancement” that could result in a mandatory five years in prison because the offense was committed with a gun.
Prosecutors have said a jury may ultimately decide which definition of manslaughter to pursue.
A probable cause statement outlining evidence against Baldwin alleges many instances of “extremely reckless acts” or reckless failures to take precautions in the days and minutes leading up to the deadly shooting.
Investigators say that Baldwin drew a revolver from a holster, pointed it at Hutchins and fired the weapon when a plastic or replica gun should have been used by industry standards.
It says photos and videos of the rehearsal, including moments before the deadly shooting, showed Baldwin with his finger inside the trigger guard and on the trigger while “manipulating” the pistol’s hammer, and that an FBI analysis shows the pistol could not be fired without pressing the trigger.
Investigators say Baldwin failed to appear for mandatory firearms training prior to filming, and that he didn’t fully complete on-set training while distracted by phone calls to family. They also cite several breaches of required safety-checks and protocols as the gun was loaded and provided to Baldwin.
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed maintain their innocence and have vowed to fight the charges.
Baldwin’s attorney Luke Nikas declined comment on Tuesday and referred to his previous statement on the case, in which he called the charges a “terrible miscarriage of justice” that he and his client would fight and win.
“Mr Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun – or anywhere on the movie set,” the statement said. “He relied on the professionals with whom he worked.”
Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney said they would release a statement later.
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Prosecutors say that Baldwin, in his role as a producer of Rust, failed to account for Gutierrez-Reed’s relative inexperience as an uncertified armourer on her second film assignment. They allege that Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed skipped a critical safety check of the gun and its ammunition, and that Baldwin should have known better as an actor with extensive experience in films involving firearms.
“Standard protocol is the armourer is to show the actor the firearm, pull the bullets out in front of the actor, and demonstrate there are no live rounds (but dummies) in the firearm,” investigators said. “Hannah Gutierrez-Reed did not do this protocol in front of Baldwin. Baldwin did not object.”
Prosecutors also provided a new accounting of live ammunition on the set – noting that five additional live rounds were discovered by authorities, including a round in Baldwin’s holster as well as an ammunition box, a holster, a weapons cart and one live round seized from Gutierrez-Reed.
Hutchins’ death already has led to new safety precautions in the film industry.
Carmack-Altwies told The Associated Press in a Jan 19 interview that the set was “really being run pretty fast and loose” and that Baldwin should have known there had been previous misfires on the set and that multiple people had brought up safety concerns.
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be issued a summons to appear in court. Prosecutors will forgo a grand jury and rely on a judge to determine if there is sufficient evidence to move toward trial. It could take up to 60 days for a decision.
Involuntary manslaughter can involve a killing that happens while a defendant is doing something lawful but dangerous and is acting negligently or without caution.
Prosecutors say that a proposed plea agreement signed by assistant director David Halls, who oversaw safety on set, has not yet been approved by a judge and cannot be published.
Prosecutors said previously that Halls has agreed to plead guilty in the negligent use of a deadly weapon. Prosecutors say Halls may have handled the gun improperly before it was given to Baldwin.
Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said in a statement Monday that prosecutors are “fully focused on securing justice for Halyna Hutchins” and “the evidence and the facts speak for themselves”.
Baldwin, also a co-producer on Rust, has described the killing as a tragic accident. The 64-year-old actor said he was told the gun was safe and has sought to clear his name by suing people involved in handling and supplying the loaded .45-caliber revolver.
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.
Defense attorney Jason Bowles, who represents Gutierrez-Reed, said the charges are the result of a “flawed investigation” and an “inaccurate understanding of the full facts”.
Defendants can participate remotely in many initial court proceedings or seek to have their first appearance waived.
The decision to charge Baldwin marks a stunning turn of events 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, Baldwin was known for his impression of former President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.