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District attorney hasn’t ruled out criminal charges in fatal shooting on ‘Rust’ set

Oct 27, 2021, 9:22 AM
This aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Actor A...
This aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of a Western being filmed at the ranch on Thursday, Oct. 21, killing the cinematographer, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    (CNN) — A district attorney in New Mexico hasn’t ruled out criminal charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the “Rust” movie set, a spokesperson confirmed Tuesday, noting the shooting remains under active investigation.

News of the potential for criminal charges was first reported on Tuesday by the New York Times following a phone interview with Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney for Santa Fe County.

“We haven’t ruled out anything,” Mary Carmack-Altwies was quoted as saying to the Times in a phone interview. “Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table.”

Carmack-Altwies told the Times the term “prop gun” is misleading and the gun that killed Hutchins was a “legit gun,” describing it as an “antique-era appropriate gun.”

According to the report, Carmack-Altwies said the investigation is focusing on ballistics to determine what kind of rounds were used, and who placed them in the gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin.

“There were an enormous amount of bullets on this set, and we need to find out what kinds they were,” Carmack-Altwies was quoted as saying.

“None of the producers of ‘Rust’ have been contacted by the New Mexico District Attorney’s office,” a spokesperson for the production company behind the film told CNN. “We will continue to fully cooperate with any and all law-enforcement investigations as they work through the details of this heartbreaking tragedy.”

The district attorney is expected to participate in a news conference with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office scheduled for Wednesday morning.

The district attorney also said news reports crew members were using guns with live ammunition for target practice hours before the fatal shooting occurred were “unconfirmed.”

The DA was referring in part to the founder and CEO of The Wrap, Sharon Waxman, telling CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday — citing information from an individual with knowledge of the set — “Rust” crew members used guns with live ammunition and engaged in a pastime called “plinking” hours before Hutchins was shot.

One of the guns used was later handed to Baldwin, who fired the shot that killed Hutchins, 42, and injured director Joel Souza, The Wrap reported.

“They go out into the rural areas and they shoot at beer cans. This is with live ammunition. We learned that this happened the morning of the day that Halyna Hutchins was killed,” Waxman said.

Waxman told CNN “plinking” is common when there’s downtime during a shoot.

CNN has not been able to confirm The Wrap’s reporting.

When asked by The Wrap for comment on this reporting, “Rust” producers referred back to their previous statement sent to media outlets, including CNN: “The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company. 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. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”

The incident happened Thursday at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Gun went off as Baldwin practiced quick draw, AD says

Souza, who was injured in the shoulder, told investigators the prop gun went off as Baldwin was practicing drawing his gun, according to an affidavit for a search warrant.

Souza spoke to investigators Friday, according to the affidavit released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday.

He told them Baldwin was “sitting in a pew in a church building setting, and he was practicing a cross draw,” the affidavit said. A cross draw is when a shooter pulls the weapon from a holster on the opposite side of the body from the draw hand.

Souza was looking over Hutchins’ shoulder “when he heard what sounded like a whip and then a loud pop,” according to the affidavit.

He also confirmed to an investigator he heard the term “cold gun” on set, meaning the firearm should have been empty.

According to the warrant, Souza said three people had been handling the firearms for scenes — they were checked by the armorer and first assistant director and then given to the actor using them.

The investigator said Souza was unaware of anyone on set being checked to see whether they had live ammunition on them before or after the scenes were filmed.

“The only thing checked are the firearms to avoid live ammunition being in them. Joel (Souza) stated there should never be live rounds whatsoever near or around the scene,” the affidavit said.

Souza’s representatives have not returned CNN’s requests for comment.

Attorney Gloria Allred said Tuesday that script supervisor Mamie Mitchell has evidence and information that will be “helpful in this investigation.”

Mitchell was standing “very close” to Hutchins and Souza, she said, and called 911, Allred said.

“Halyna was a friend and close colleague of Mamie,” Allred said. “She is devastated by the loss of her friend, who was an extraordinary woman.”

Allred said Mitchell has been interviewed by the sheriff’s office and will not be speaking to the media.

Meanwhile, the producers of “Rust” have hired a law firm to investigate the shooting, Deadline.com reported.

“In addition to cooperating with authorities, we hired a legal team from Jenner & Block to conduct an investigation of the events,” according to a communication sent from the “Rust” production to cast and crew members, Deadline reported. “We have stressed that they will have full discretion about who to interview and any conclusions they draw.”

CNN has not received a copy of the letter that Deadline said was distributed to cast and crew members. CNN has reached out to law firm Jenner & Block for comment.

Results of final autopsy will take weeks

Completion of the final medical examiner’s autopsy report on Hutchins’ death could take weeks, according to information from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.

A spokesperson declined to provide details on the investigation but said autopsy reports from their office typically take 6-10 weeks to complete.

A sheriff’s department official previously told CNN they are awaiting a forensic report from the medical examiner in order to determine what type of projectile killed Hutchins.

The medical examiner spokesperson said the office does not publicly disclose information about the type of projectile that resulted in someone’s death until an autopsy report is finalized.

Prior incidents reported on set

There were at least two accidental prop gun discharges on the “Rust” set in the days before the fatal shooting, according to multiple news reports.

The discharges occurred on October 16, when crew members accidentally fired two rounds after being told the gun was “cold,” the Los Angeles Times reported, citing two crew members who reportedly witnessed the incident. It was not known whether the discharges included live rounds. No one was injured in the accidental discharges, The Wall Street Journal reported.

There were no complaints of unsafe conditions on the set of “Rust” sent to the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) in New Mexico, according to an email sent to CNN from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

The armorer who prepared the prop gun used by Baldwin on Thursday was identified in search warrant documents as Hannah Gutierrez. She had recently finished work on her first project as head armorer, she said in a September podcast interview.

“I was really nervous about it at first,” Gutierrez said of working as head armorer on the set of the movie “The Old Way,” starring Nicolas Cage.

“I almost didn’t take the job because I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but doing it, like it went really smoothly,” she said in an interview on the “Voices of the West” podcast, which is dedicated to the Old West.

Her work as armorer ranges from teaching actors how to wear a gun belt to aiming and shooting, she said.

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District attorney hasn’t ruled out criminal charges in fatal shooting on ‘Rust’ set