The death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of "Rust" may have been an accident, but it’s possible those involved with the incident could still face civil or legal ramifications.
Following the release of a search warrant executed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's office, detectives uncovered that there were three key people who handled the firearm that eventually went off and resulted in the death of Hutchins.
Armorer Hanna Gutierrez Reed placed the prop gun outside of the church set location on a cart with other prop guns due to coronavirus restrictions. The next person to handle it was assistant director Dave Halls, who handed it off to Baldwin, announcing that it was a "cold gun," a term used to indicate to those on-set that the firearm was not loaded and therefore safe to handle.
Both the armorer and assistant director were reportedly tasked with checking the gun to make sure it was unloaded. However, somehow a live round was loaded into the gun that went off when Baldwin pulled the trigger while rehearsing a scene. Furthermore, director Joel Souza, who was also injured in the incident when the shot hit him in the right shoulder, questioned why there was live ammunition on the set at all that day, according to the affidavit.
With these three key figures being the most involved with the handling of the gun, legal experts told Fox News that liability could fall on one if not all of them.
"It seems unlikely from what we know that Alec Baldwin either intentionally or recklessly fired a gun thinking he could kill another person," said white collar criminal defense attorney Rachel Fiset in a statement to Fox News. "The facts coming out thus far may suggest, however, that there was a lack of adherence to safety protocols on the set and that Ms. Hutchins’ death was caused ‘without due caution and circumspection’ under the New Mexico Penal Code."
As a result, she states that a charge of involuntary manslaughter could be in the cards due to allegedly criminally negligent behavior on the set. While it’s unclear at this time what exactly happened on that day, a crew member who previously worked with Halls claimed that she filed a complaint against him for allegedly disregarding safety protocols. Gutierrez Reed, meanwhile, previously said on a podcast that she doubted her skills as an armorer in the past before taking on the position in "Rust."
"This was not an accident. It was so reckless that it rises to a crime. Had any one of the safety rules been followed, Halyna Hutchins would be alive and Joel Souza would not have been injured," said criminal defense attorney Chris Melcher, who has handled accidental shooting cases and represented film producers in the past.
"The assistant director could face charges for involuntary manslaughter under New Mexico law. It is lawful to use a gun with blanks to make a movie, but New Mexico law requires the cast and crew to use ‘due caution' because there can be deadly consequences from mishandling the gun," he added, echoing Fiset’s comments.
Melcher continued: "Had the property master ensured that no live ammo was on the set, no bullet would have been fired. Had the weapon be checked, the bullet would have been discovered. These are simple rules to follow that would not have delayed production. The failure to observe those rules creates criminal liability on the part of the assistant director and the armorer."
Both legal experts noted that, although the circumstances seem to indicate Baldwin will likely escape any criminal manslaughter charges, his position as a producer on "Rust" may leave him open to a civil suit at some point in the future.
"There is no doubt in my mind that there will be some sort of civil liability for this heinous accident on set. This kind of tragic accident is preventable and Ms. Hutchins’ family will likely receive monetary damages either through a lawsuit or an immediate settlement from the production company," Fiset said.
Currently, both authorities, as well as the production company, are working to investigate the on-set incident and determine both how this happened and whether anyone is at fault, criminally or otherwise.
In a statement issued on Twitter one day after the incident, Baldwin noted that he is in full compliance with authorities.