Who could be charged in Alec Baldwin shooting incident on set of 'Rust'?

Authorities say it is too early to discuss charges in events that led to fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies on Wednesday said it is too early to discuss charges against those involved in the tragedy that struck the set of the low-budget Western film Rust in New Mexico last Thursday, but experts are predicting a legal fallout that could run into "millions of dollars".

"No one has been ruled out at this point," Ms Carmack-Altwies said, referring to potential charges.

On Wednesday, law enforcement said they had recovered a lead projectile believed to have been fired from the gun used in the fatal movie-set shooting.

Five hundred rounds of ammunition - consisting of a mix of blanks, dummies and live rounds - were found while searching the set. Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza did not comment on how the rounds made it to the set.

Mr Mendoza added he felt there was some "complacency" on the set.

The question now is who, if anyone, will be held responsible for the death of Halyna Hutchins, the film's cinematographer who was killed with a prop gun discharged by actor Alec Baldwin.

Here are some of the main players in the ongoing case:

Alec Baldwin, lead actor and producer

Baldwin fired a Long Colt revolver loaded with a live lead round in last week's fatal shooting, Mr Mendoza said during Wednesday's briefing.

The actor has been co-operating in the investigation, Mr Mendoza added.

"He's obviously the person that fired the weapon," Mr Mendoza said. "Right now, he is an active part of this investigation."

While many facts about the shooting have not yet been established, legal experts agree that Baldwin is unlikely to be seen as criminally liable for discharging the weapon. But prosecutors could explore two avenues for charging Baldwin: as the actor who pulled the trigger during a rehearsal or as a producer of the film.

Court records say that assistant director Dave Halls grabbed the gun from a cart and handed it to Baldwin, indicating the weapon was safe by yelling “cold gun.” But it was loaded with live rounds, according to a written affidavit from a detective.

Baldwin, 63, who is known for his roles in 30 Rock, The Departed and his impression of former US President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, has described the killing as a “tragic accident.” He had said earlier that he was "fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred".

"He appears to have reasonably believed that this was not a loaded weapon," University of Southern California law professor Gregory Keating told AFP.

Criminal defence lawyer Richard Kaplan, of Kaplan Marino, added: "Alec Baldwin does not appear to have a whole lot of liability... the further you get from the person who's in charge of the gun, the less likely."

Legal consultant Bryan Sullivan believes Baldwin could however be sued by Hutchins' family, separate from the criminal case, as he's one of the 12 producers and executive producers credited in Rust.

"I anticipate that everybody's going to be sued," Sullivan told AFP. He said that Baldwin is likely to be named in any civil action because of his deep pockets, and because his fame would help draw media coverage.

"I doubt the assistant director has substantial wealth, so a plaintiff's lawyer would definitely want to name Alec Baldwin to get the money in there," he said.

Dave Halls, assistant director

Concerns have been raised about Halls’s safety record by colleagues on two previous productions.

Baldwin was handed the gun by Halls, who announced that the weapon was safe.

On Monday, a producer for the movie Freedom’s Path told AP that Halls was fired from its production in 2019 after a crew member suffered a minor injury “when a gun was unexpectedly discharged.” The producer, who asked not to be identified by name, wrote that Halls “was removed from the set immediately.” Production did not resume until Halls was gone.

His firing from Freedom’s Path was first reported by CNN.

The producer was the second person to air doubts about Halls’s safety record. On Sunday, another crew member who worked with Halls said she raised concerns about him in 2019.

Hollywood prop maker Maggie Goll said she had raised safety concerns about Halls when they worked together on Hulu's Into the Dark television series.

"He did not maintain a safe working environment," Goll told NBC News. "Sets were almost always allowed to become increasingly claustrophobic, no established fire lanes, exits blocked ... safety meetings were nonexistent."

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, armourer

Legal experts told AFP that others involved in the tragedy could potentially be named in a lawsuit, including armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, 24, and Halls.

Ms Gutierrez-Reed has "no idea" why there were live rounds present, her lawyers said on Friday.

The statement is the first public comment from her since Hutchins's death.

"Ultimately, this set would never have been compromised if live ammo were not introduced," a statement from Ms Gutierrez-Reed's representatives said.

"Hannah has no idea where the live rounds came from."

The role of the armourer involves supplying and keeping weapons safe on set, ensuring they are accounted for at all times, and locked away when not in use.

Entertainment trade website The Wrap reported that crew members had been using the weapons only hours before Hutchins was killed.

Only a month before Thursday's accident, Ms Gutierrez-Reed had spoken about her worry that her inexperience meant she was not up to the job when she began her first movie as head armourer earlier this year – the Western The Old Way starring Nicolas Cage, which is scheduled for release in 2022.

"I was really nervous about it at first, and I almost didn't take the job because I wasn't sure if I was ready, but doing it, it went really smoothly," Ms Gutierrez-Reed told the Voices of the West podcast about Western films.

Ms Gutierrez-Reed followed in the steps of her father Thell Reed, a well-known Hollywood armourer.

Rust Movie Productions, producer

The production company for Rust has said it is co-operating with Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.

Questions have been raised about working conditions on the set, with Los Angeles Times and Deadline citing several members of the crew and others close to the production as saying six or seven camera operators had walked off the set only hours before the tragedy.

Both outlets also reported that there had been at least one previous misfire with the prop gun.

"We cited everything from lack of payment for three weeks, taking our hotels away despite asking for them in our deals, lack of Covid safety, and on top of that, poor gun safety! Poor on-set safety period!" one camera crew member wrote on a private Facebook page, according to Deadline.

About a week before the tragedy, Baldwin's stunt double accidentally fired two rounds with a prop firearm after being told it was "cold", the Los Angeles Times said. At least one employee complained to a production manager about gun safety on set, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed crew members.

The same mistake may have occurred on Thursday, according to court records.

"Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down," Rust Movie Productions said.

The payouts arising from the legal fallout – which could be covered in part by insurance held by the production company – would likely be in the “millions and millions” of dollars, Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law and a gun policy expert, told AP.

“There was clearly negligence on the set. The producers had a duty to preserve the safety of the crew. There were obvious hazards on the set," he said.

Additional reporting by AP and AFP

Updated: October 29th 2021, 5:48 PM