Prosecutors Say Alec Baldwin Had ‘Absolute Duty’ to Check the Gun
The prosecutors in New Mexico who made the decision to charge the actor Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the “Rust” movie set said on Thursday that he bore responsibility for ensuring that the gun he was handed did not contain live rounds.
“He doesn’t actually have to touch each projectile, each piece of ammunition,” Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney in Santa Fe County, said in an interview after the charging decision was announced. “He has an absolute duty to know that what is in the gun that is being placed in his hand is safe.”
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was in charge of weapons on set as the movie’s armorer, also had that responsibility, the prosecutors said, as did Dave Halls, the first assistant director. (Mr. Halls called out “cold gun,” indicating that it did not have live ammunition, when he handed the revolver to Mr. Baldwin, according to court papers filed earlier.)
Like Mr. Baldwin, Ms. Gutierrez-Reed will be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the killing of the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. Lisa Torraco, a lawyer for Mr. Halls, who handed the gun to Mr. Baldwin before the shooting, said he would plead no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon.
Lawyers for both Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Gutierrez-Reed asserted they would be exonerated.
The prosecutors said they had interviewed several actors who told them they do check their own firearms to make sure they are safe to handle. But Mr. Baldwin has pushed back on the idea that actors are typically responsible for that.
In a statement after the charging decision was announced, Luke Nikas, one of Mr. Baldwin’s lawyers, said the actor “relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds.”
In a lawsuit the actor filed last year against people involved in the “Rust” production, his lawyer, Luke Nikas, wrote that Mr. Baldwin had not been instructed to check the gun himself and had not been taught to do so in the past.
“Baldwin believed, based on prior gun safety training he received on movie sets, that actors should not unilaterally check guns for live ammunition,” Mr. Nikas wrote. “If actors want to check a gun for their own peace of mind, they should check the gun only with the armorer closely supervising the process.”
In an interview on ABC News following the fatal shooting, Mr. Baldwin said that in his career, crew members tasked with managing weapons would sometimes “insist” on showing people on set the chamber of the gun, declaring it “cold,” but that it did not always happen.
“In the 40 years that I’ve been in this business,” he said in the interview, “all the way up until that day, I never had a problem.”
Ms. Gutierrez-Reed was not in the building at the time of the shooting — which also wounded the film’s director, Joel Souza — because of coronavirus protocols that limited how many people could be present, she has said.
Mr. Baldwin has asserted that he did not pull the trigger before the revolver discharged, explaining that he pulled the hammer back and let it go in a manner that could have set the gun off. Ms. Carmack-Altwies said the F.B.I. analysis of the gun had concluded that the trigger had been pulled.
The actor has also said Ms. Hutchins was directing him where to point the weapon, as the camera crew was trying to get a tight shot of him drawing it out before a gunfight.
“It’s our understanding that she was directing him to point it at the camera, and while she was next to the camera, she was not directly behind the camera,” Ms. Carmack-Altwies said. “And so he did not need to be pointing it directly at her and he certainly did not need to pull the trigger.”
After the fatal shooting on Oct. 21, 2021, which rocked the film industry and started a conversation about why real guns are used on film sets, the sheriff’s office investigated the origins of several live rounds it found on set but never shared potential theories publicly.
Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor assigned to the case, said in the interview that the question might be unanswerable, noting that in the announcement of charges, they were not blaming Mr. Baldwin for the live rounds ending up on set in the first place.
Ms. Reeb said she was aware of speculation that the live rounds came from Seth Kenney, the movie’s primary supplier of guns and ammunition. Mr. Kenney, who has not been announced as the subject of charges, denied supplying live ammunition, saying he checks all rounds that he supplies to films to make sure they are safe to use; the prosecutors said they found “no conclusive proof” that Mr. Kenney supplied the live rounds that were found.
Sarah Zachry, the movie’s props master who worked closely with Ms. Gutierrez-Reed, was also a central figure in the investigation by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. The prosecutors did not announce charges against her, saying they did not find she had any contact with the weapon in question.