Alec Baldwin, assistant director, the gunsmith or nobody? Will anyone be prosecuted for the death of Halyna Hutchins?

It is not yet known for the moment who made the decisions on the set of “Rust” during which the director was shot dead. A criminal indictment of the actor, who was also executive producer of the western, seems rather unlikely.

The circumstances in which actor Alec Baldwin accidentally fired a gun during a shoot, killing the cinematographer, are starting to become clearer but a question remains: will anyone be prosecuted for the death of Halyna Hutchins, and if so, who? No arrests have taken place at this stage but justice has not yet ruled out possible criminal proceedings against the protagonists of the drama that took place on October 21 on the set of “Rust”, a low-budget western, in the State of New Mexico (southwest).

Legal experts interviewed by AFP believe that the Santa Fe prosecutor’s office can in theory follow two avenues to indict Alec Baldwin: as an actor who pulled the trigger during a rehearsal, and as the film’s producer. Although many gray areas remain on the chain of facts that led to the accident, these experts nevertheless consider it very unlikely that Alec Baldwin is exposed to criminal prosecution.

According to several American media, members of the team of “Rust” had complained of breaches of security and a weapon had been inadvertently activated at least twice before the death of Ms. Hutchins.

Other protagonists of the drama besides Baldwin could be singled out in a complaint, including assistant director Dave Halls, who was learned on Monday that he had already been fired from a set for a loaded gun problem, and the armourer of the set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. The specialized site The Wrap reveals that at 24, she lacked experience and that several actors, including Nicholas Cage, had demanded that she be excluded from a shoot two months ago. On a film, the gunsmith is responsible for the weapons used during the various shots and must constantly ensure that they do not present any danger to the team. Firearms should be kept locked up when not in use.

However, The Wrap claims, citing sources close to the filming, that some members of the crew had used the revolver in question to fire live ammunition at cans of beer just hours before the accident. Beyond the people who directly handled the gun, producers could also be accused of “negligence” if they did not take all measures to ensure the safety of the shoot, notes Mr. Keating.

Civil lawsuits and indemnities

Alec Baldwin was handed the lethal weapon by Dave Halls, who according to several witnesses had announced that the weapon was “cold”, which means in movie jargon that the gun is empty and harmless. “He seems to have reasonably thought that it was not a loaded weapon”, notes Gregory Keating, professor of law at the University of Southern California (USC). A manslaughter charge would require proof that the actor acted recklessly.

Or “Alec Baldwin does not seem to have a great responsibility … the further you move away from the person in charge of the revolver, the less likely it is”, told AFP Richard Kaplan, criminal lawyer at Kaplan Marino law firm in Los Angeles.

Would Baldwin be more responsible with his producer cap? “Rust” lists a total of 12 producers and executive producers, Baldwin being one of the latter. In Hollywood, these titles mean nothing very specific and can apply just as well to the big boss of a shoot as to someone who helped find funding at the start of the project.

It is not yet clear who made the decisions on the set of “Rust”. No more is known about Alec Baldwin’s exact role in production, and the production company has not responded to AFP’s multiple requests.

“My personal feeling is that (Baldwin) is probably very far away” in the decision chain, says Kaplan. “When you’re a star actor and you’re credited as a producer, it doesn’t mean you have big responsibilities… it’s really just for economic reasons,” he adds. Mr. Keating also believes that Alec Baldwin looks more like a “Passive investor than a producer”.

Beyond the criminal proceedings to which the investigation could lead, the experts, however, consider it highly probable that the family of Halyna Hutchins and the director Joel Souza, injured by the shooting, will initiate civil proceedings to obtain compensation.

These complaints would target the production company, Alec Baldwin and the other producers individually and “Anyone who has come into contact with the weapon directly or indirectly”, predicts Bryan Sullivan, legal adviser interviewed by AFP. Alec Baldwin would be mainly targeted for his financial base and his reputation, according to the expert. “I doubt the assistant director has a substantial fortune, so the plaintiff’s lawyer would definitely want to quote Alec Baldwin for the money”, explique Bryan Sullivan.


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