OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A camera operator who was working on the set of the Alec Baldwin movie “Rust” has now spoken about the actor’s handling of prop weapons in the aftermath of the accidental shooting that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead and director Joel Souza wounded.
In an affidavit to detectives the cameraman, Reid Russell, said that Baldwin was very careful with pop weapons before the shooting, Fox News reported.
According to the warrant affidavit, which was obtained by Fox News, Russell actually commended the 63-year-old actor for his conduct during a prior scene that involved discharging a firearm. He noted that the actor observed all the safety protocols and even did an extra check-in with the crew to make sure no one was near him. Specifically, he made sure a child who was on set that day wasn’t anywhere near him when discharging the weapon.
Baldwin was reportedly told by assistant director Dave Halls that the gun he was working with when Hutchins was shot was a “cold gun,” a term used when a firearm being worked with on a set is not loaded with any live ammunition.
Unfortunately, it seems the gun was in fact loaded. When Baldwin pulled the trigger while working with Souza and Hutchins to set up a shot, it went off resulting in one of the worst on-set tragedies in recent memory.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office warrant noted that Souza said he heard “what sounded like a whip and then a loud pop,” then he witnessed Hutchins, who was in front of him at the time of the shooting, grab her midsection and stumble backwards. She “was assisted to the ground” by other people on the crew and she said she could not feel her legs.
“The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said. “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.”
Some legal experts have said that Baldwin could face charges, including manslaughter, in the incident, The New York Post reported.
“As an executive producer, you are in a position of control and you can get prosecuted criminally,” Joseph Costa, an attorney with Costa Law in Los Angeles, said. “It’s the equivalent of drinking and driving, meaning someone may not have intended to cause great harm but they do.”
Erlinda Johnson, a former state and federal prosecutor and current criminal attorney, said he could be liable for involuntary manslaughter.
“All the state needs to demonstrate is that he was engaged in a lawful, but dangerous act and did not act with due caution,” the attorney said. “That’s what the state has to prove for involuntary manslaughter, which is a fourth-degree felony with a maximum penalty of up to 18 months in prison.”
She said Baldwin could defend himself by saying that someone else handed him the gun, “but then, well it was incumbent upon him, since he was handling the gun, to make sure there were no rounds.”
“Clearly someone didn’t do their due diligence. They should have been checking those guns to make sure there were no live rounds,” she said.
Denise Bohdan, a defense attorney from Los Angeles, said that “everyone will be sued,” which may be the least of Baldwin’s issues.
“Anyone running that set will be sued, especially when they find out who specifically was cutting corners on the set,” she said.
“Yes, Alec Baldwin was the main producer but it might be found out that another producer did more to cut corners. I don’t think there will be anything as bad as a murder charge but this is going to be a legal nightmare for Baldwin,” she said.
“The facts have yet to come out but as to potential criminal charges they will look to his possible negligence,” Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman criminal attorney Rachel Fiset said. “His problems don’t lie in what he did as an actor. It will certainly come out that he thought he was firing a blank. The real issue is his role as a producer and the safety protocols – or lack thereof – on the set. If real negligence is proven, that could result in criminal charges.”