06 March 2024

Workplace safety regulator says management failed in fatal shooting on Rust set

06 March 2024

Complaints by a movie weapons supervisor to managers went unheeded as she sought more time and resources to fulfil safety duties on the set of the western movie Rust, where actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, a workplace safety investigator has testified.

Defence lawyers for armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed called the inspector among their first witnesses to refute allegations of involuntary manslaughter.

Lorenzo Montoya of the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau conducted a six-month investigation into the shooting and whether managers affiliated with Rust Movie Productions complied with state workplace safety regulations.

His inspection produced a scathing narrative of safety failures violating standard industry protocols, including observations that weapons specialists were not allowed to make decisions about additional safety training and did not respond to Gutierrez-Reed’s complaints.

The report also found that managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set before the fatal shooting and requests to provide more training.

Defence attorneys argue that Gutierrez-Reed, who has pleaded not guilty, is being unfairly scapegoated for problems beyond her control, including Mr Baldwin’s handling of the weapons on the set of the western movie in 2021.

Mr Montoya said Gutierrez-Reed’s requests for more time and resources as an armourer went unheeded.

“Rust Movie Productions identified a hazard,” Mr Montoya said.

“They adopted firearms safety policies, but they totally failed to enforce them, train their employees on them, practice them, reference them. Nothing. They adopted it, and it stopped at the word adoption. Nothing further happened.”

In a counterpoint to those findings, prosecutors previously introduced testimony from on-set producer Gabrielle Pickle that she responded to gun-safety concerns on the set of Rust by providing more days — 10 days, increased from five — for Gutierrez-Reed to devote to her armourer duties instead of other responsibilities in the props department.

Prosecutors say Gutierrez-Reed is to blame for unwittingly bringing live ammunition on set and that she flouted basic safety protocols for weapons handling.

Dozens of witnesses have testified at a trial that began with jury selection on February 21, including eyewitnesses to the shooting, FBI evidence analysts, an ammunition supplier to Rust, and the film director who was wounded in the shooting and survived.

Mr Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer on Rust, was separately indicted by a grand jury last month on an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with the fatal shooting of Hutchins. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is scheduled for July.

Mr Baldwin was pointing the gun at Ms Hutchins during a rehearsal on the set outside of Santa Fe when the gun went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

Rust Movie Productions paid a 100,000 dollar (£78,700) fine to resolve the state workplace safety findings.

In other testimony on Tuesday, state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau chief Robert Genoway said Rust producers should have known about hazardous conditions on set and taken action before the fatal shooting.

He set the initial fine against Rust Movie Productions at the maximum under state law of 130,000 dollars (£102,300).

When prosecutor Jason Lewis pressed him, Mr Genoway acknowledged his previous comments that Gutierrez-Reed contributed to safety breakdowns.

Former homicide detective Scott Elliott, an expert witness for the defence, highlighted shortcomings in the investigation that led to charges against Gutierrez-Reed, noting that she was confined to a police car in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

In contrast, other witnesses, including Mr Baldwin, commingled and made phone calls.

Mr Elliott said interactions between witnesses could lead them to misremember details of what they saw, and he also faulted investigators for waiting weeks after the shooting to search an Albuquerque ammunition supplier.

The perils of firearms got some unwelcomed attention in the courtroom when one witness inadvertently pointed a gun or replica toward the judge, and a law enforcement deputy intervened to lower the weapon.

A second charge against Gutierrez-Reed of evidence tampering stems from accusations that she handed a small bag of possible narcotics to another crew member after the shooting to avoid detection.

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