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‘An Avoidable Loss of Life Occurred’: New Mexico Report Says Film Company Behind Alec Baldwin Film Rust ‘Ignored’ Safety Concerns Before Halyna Hutchins Death

Halyna Hutchins and Alec Baldwin

Halyna Hutchins and Alec Baldwin.

New Mexico government authorities have issued a maximum fine against the company behind the Alec Baldwin film which shut down due to an Oct. 21, 2021 on-set shooting death.  A report connected to that fine skewered the company behind the production for skimping on gun safety training days and for asking the film’s armorer to handle other prop duties that took her attention away from caring for the film’s firearms.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died after a gun held by Baldwin expelled a live projectile during a rehearsal. Director Joel Souza was wounded by the same bullet.

The New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) on Wednesday concluded that managers with Rust Movie Productions, LLC “knew that firearm safety procedures were not being followed on set and demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety by failing to review work practices and take corrective action,” according to a press release issued Wednesday.

“Rust Movie Productions, LLC was issued a Willful-Serious citation that includes a $136,793 civil penalty,” the press release said. “This is the highest level of citation and maximum fine allowable by state law in New Mexico. Rust Movie Productions, LLC was cited for the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set that resulted in a fatality, severe injury, and unsafe working conditions.”

The OHSB press release cited “clear national guidelines for firearms safety” which Rust Movie Productions, LLC “failed to follow.”

A KOAT screengrab shows police activity at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, N.M., after a deadly shooting on the set of the film "Rust" on Oct. 21, 2021.

A KOAT screengrab shows police activity at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, N.M., after a deadly shooting on the set of the film “Rust” on Oct. 21, 2021.

Specifically, documents obtained from Rust Movie Productions, LLC indicated that the film company intended to follow a safety bulletin from an Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, the OHSB indicated.

The requisite document, entitled “Recommendations for Safety With Firearms and Use of ‘Blank Ammunition,'” was not adhered to on set, the OHSB asserted.

“The guidelines require live ammunition ‘never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage,’ that safety meetings take place every day when firearms are being handled, and that employees ‘refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone’ except after consultation with the Property Master, Armorer or other safety representative, such as the First Assistant Director,” OHSB said in a recap of the document. “By failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”

“Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety,” said Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”

Under state law, OHSB must issue a citation within six months of a safety occurrence, the agency also asserted.

A more complete investigatory document obtained by Law&Crime says OHSB investigators were initially turned away on Oct. 22, 2021 when they approached the set the day after the shooting occurred:

On Friday, October 22, 2021, at approximately 12:30 p.m., I attempted to inspect the site, Bonanza Creek Ranch. When I arrived at the site, the three security guards present attempted to contact a representative of Rust by phone to confirm I would be allowed on site. The Company representative informed me that I would be allowed entry, but not be allowed to take pictures or conduct interviews until a warrant was acquired. After being denied the ability to inspect the site by the Sheriff’s Office and the Company, I left.

OHSB returned on Oct. 24, 2021, when the sheriff’s department released the scene.

The inspection paperwork lists myriad names and titles connected to the production — and lays out what state investigators determined to be Alec Baldwin’s responsibility.

“Alec Baldwin, Actor and Producer, and Joel Souza, Director, negotiated with various producers to help create and fund the Rust project,” the document indicates. “Alec Baldwin’s authority on the set included approving script changes and actor candidates. Alec Baldwin handled the revolver and fired the round that struck and injured Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza.”

The OHSB investigators described the gun as a “modern replica of a Colt .45 caliber revolver, ‘Long Colt’ in style.”

“Rust had 13 such revolvers for the production in total, from manufacturers Piette, Uberti, and Cimarron,” according to the reports.

Investigators determined that Rust intended to receive “blank and dummy rounds” from its supplier, PDQ Arm & Props.

“Live rounds may be distinguishable from dummy rounds by either a small hole in the brass cartridge (indicating that there is no powder), by a missing or dimpled primer at the bottom of the cartridge, or by shaking the round and hearing the distinct clatter of a BB within,” the document indicates.

“Unless a round is removed from a storage box or firearm and inspected, it can’t be verified as a dummy round.”

Thell Reed and Hannah Gutierrez Reed appear in an ABC News screengrab.

Thell Reed and Hannah Gutierrez Reed appear in an ABC News screengrab.

The paperwork then centers on Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film’s armorer. The reports indicate that Gutierrez-Reed was frequently pulled away from armorer duties to handle general prop duties — and that she warned her superiors that something bad could happen if she didn’t have enough time to focus on on the weaponry:

As Armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for storage, maintenance, and handling of firearms and ammunition on set, and for training members of the cast who would be handling firearms. In accordance with Rust safety procedures and industry-recognized safety practice, the Armorer is required to be present whenever firearms are being handled and should have the authority to determine whether an individual requires additional safety training. However, Rust also required Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to perform the role of Props Assistant to [Props Master] Sarah Zachary when firearms were not in active use. In an email conversation that occurred on October 10, 2021, [Line Producer] Gabrielle Pickle informed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed that she was allowed 8 paid days at the Armorer’s rate in her contract to perform Armorer tasks, and the rest of her time was to be spent as a Props Assistant.

[ . . . ]

On October 14, 2021, Gabriel Pickle emailed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed addressing Armorer and Key Assistant Props duties and stating, “…it has been brought to my attention that you are focusing far more on Armor and not supporting props as needed.” In the same email, Ms. Pickle informed Ms. Gutierrez-Reed that the “Production and AD team have seen twice that there was a shotgun left unattended after a scene.” Ms. Pickle went on to state that she needed ”…some type of check in / out system put in place immediately.” Ms. Gutierrez-Reed responded by email the 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.” Ms. Gutierrez-Reed later in the same email stated, “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.”

Then came the accidents, which the document describes as follows:

On October 16, 2021, there were two firearms misfires on the Rust set. In the first instance, Sarah Zachary inadvertently fired a blank round as she finished loading a .45 caliber revolver that was aimed at the ground. 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.

The second misfire on October 16, 2021, involved Blake Teixiera, Stunt Double for Alec Baldwin, and a lever action rifle of unknown make and model. It is not known how the misfire happened, as according to some statements he was alone in “the cabin”, and others state he was not alone. 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.

Despite those misfires, here’s how state inspectors say the conversations continued between Gutierrez-Reed and management:

On October 17, 2021, Hanna Gutierrez-Reed sent a text message to Gabrielle Pickle stating, “Hey, we’re on day 8 of Armor days. So if there’s gunfire after this you may want to talk to the producers.” Ms. Pickle replied the same day that there would be “No more trading (sic) days.” Ms. Gutierrez-Reed then asked to clarify, “Training days?” Ms. Pickle responded, “Like training Alec and such.”

Another section of the document explains this tension in additional detail:

After instructing Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to focus more on her Props Assistant duties and less on Armorer responsibilities, Gabrielle Pickle then informed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed that “Production and AD team have seen twice there was a shotgun left unattended after a scene… We need all weapons to be in your control any time they are used.” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed explained conducting her Armorer duties and Props Assistant duties created a gap wherein actors or stuntmen put down a firearm and step away, leaving it unattended. Hannah informed Gabrielle that “It would slow production down terribly if we had to check them back in between scenes…” and “When I’m forced to do both, that’s when mistakes get made like the shotgun being unattended.” Gabrielle Pickle instructed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to develop a check in/out system for weapons but did not follow-up to ensure weapons were secured and ignored Hannah Gutierrez Reed’s concerns about not being provided adequate time to perform Armorer duties.

Others are said in the report to have emailed “Rust” management about their concerns:

On October 20, 2021, Lane Luper, 1st Assistant Camera, resigned citing safety concerns among other issues and stated in an email to [Unit Production Manager Katherine “Row”] Walters, “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 explosive that have gone off around the crew between takes.” Mr. Luper went on to state, “To be clear there are NO safety meetings these days. There have been NO explanations as to what to expect for these shots.”

Hutchins was dead the next day.

Halyna Hutchins and her family appear in a photo released by her family's attorneys.

Halyna Hutchins and her family appear in a photo released by her family’s attorneys.

The OHSB in part skewered First Assistant Director and Safety Coordinator Dave Halls for what happened:

Rust management representative Dave Halls was present prior to and at the time the firearm discharged a live round, severely injuring two crew members. As Rust’s top-level management safety official, Mr. Halls did not consult with the Property Master or Armorer during or after the firearm was loaded, handed to the actor, and pointed toward crew members in order to determine that pointing the firearm at persons was “absolutely necessary.”

The report noted that firearms, per the industry bulletin, “are to be loaded just before they are used in a scene.”  However, on “Rust,” the gun used by Baldwin “was loaded and handed to Alec Baldwin during an informal rehearsal and prior to filming the scene involving the firearm.”

One issue pointed out by the report was the company’s failure “to take appropriate corrective or investigative actions after two firearms-related incidents (misfires) occurred on October 16, 2021, and after employee(s) notified management that they did not feel safe with how weapons were being handled on set.”

“Rust failed to follow company safety procedures, which likely would have prevented the accident from occurring,” the report went on to indicate.  “Rust management did not ensure their own safety procedures, taken from film industry ‘safety bulletins’ issued by the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, were followed at the worksite.”

The set of the movie "Rust" at Bonanza Creek Ranch appears in an Oct. 22, 2021 photo. A fatal shooting occurred on the set the day before at the hands of Alec Baldwin. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

The set of the movie “Rust” at Bonanza Creek Ranch appears in an Oct. 22, 2021 photo. A fatal shooting occurred on the set the day before at the hands of Alec Baldwin. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images.)

Several pages of point-by-point failures to adhere to the aforementioned film industry bulletin are contained within the OHSB report.  They include the following as a sampling of the many points made by state authorities:

Failure to Implement: Rust did not develop a process to ensure live rounds were not brought onto set, including failing to afford the Armorer time to thoroughly inventory ammunition.

Failure to Implement: Employees stated that while safety meetings took place, they were not conducted each day firearms were used on set, and often any mention about firearms was brief and not specific.

Failure to Implement: Gabrielle Pickle instructed Hannah Gutierrez-Reed on October 17, 2021, that “no more trading(sic) days” would take place, “Like training Alec and such.” Rust management did not provide the Armorer (or Property Master) with the authority to determine if additional training was required, in violation of Rust safety procedures.

More examples are provided in the full report, which is embedded below; here’s how the report concluded:

The Employer, Rust Movie Productions, LLC, demonstrated plain indifference to the hazards associated with firearms by routinely failing to practice their own safety protocols, failing to enforce adherence to safety protocols, and failing to ensure that the handling of deadly weapons was afforded the time and effort needed to keep the cast and crew safe. Additionally, the Employer disregarded or otherwise did not follow-up, ask questions, or try to understand what happened when employees notified management about the misfire incidents and not feeling safe on set. The Safety Coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns. Management was provided 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 on October 21, 2021.

Rust Movie Productions, LLC has 15 business to either pay the fine and correct its problems — assuming the film would continue — or to contest the matter, the OHSB said in a press release.

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 22: A Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office car leaves through the entrance to the Bonanza Creek Ranch on October 22, 2021 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Director of Photography Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was injured on set while filming the movie "Rust" at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 21, 2021. The film's star and producer Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm that hit Hutchins and Souza. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

A Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office car leaves through the entrance to the Bonanza Creek Ranch on October 22, 2021 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images.)

Attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd J. Bullion, who both represent Gutierrez-Reed, suggested in a statement to Law&Crime that the report vindicates their client:

After OSHA’s very comprehensive safety investigation involving numerous interviews and review of documents, it has concluded that production willfully failed to follow national gun safety standards, which caused this tragedy. OSHA found that Hannah Gutierrez Reed was not provided adequate time or resources to conduct her job effectively, despite her voiced concerns. Critically, OSHA also determined that production failed to call Hannah in to perform her armorer duties and inspect the firearm right before its use in the impromptu scene with Baldwin. As we have stated before, had anyone from Production called Hannah back into the church before the scene to consult with her, this tragedy would have been prevented. Hannah has also reached out to OSHA recently in an effort to provide her suggestions for changes and improvement of safety standards on sets to avoid a tragic incident in the future.

OHSB Bureau Chief Robert Genoway used the incident as a reminder to employees to “speak up about unsafe workplace conditions or report them [to the agency] anonymously.” Genoway added that it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who make workplace safety allegations.

“The investigation encompassed 1,560 hours of staff time, 14 interviews, and review of 566 documents,” the OHSB said.

Litigation surrounding the shooting continues in the civil courts.  The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Fe County District Attorney are examining whether any criminal laws were violated, the OHSB added.

The documents referenced in this report are collectively embedded below:

[Featured image of Hutchins via her family’s attorneys; image of Baldwin via Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for National Geographic.]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.