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Thursday, December 09, 2021

Gun handed to Alec Baldwin was not thoroughly checked, says affidavit

The sheriff said that the “lead projectile” that Alec Baldwin had fired from the gun had been recovered from the director’s shoulder.

By: New York Times | Santa Fe |
October 28, 2021 10:42:19 am
Alec Baldwin speaks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, N.M., after he was questioned about a shooting on the set of the film "Rust" on the outskirts of Santa Fe, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, officials said. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

Written by Simon Romero, Julia Jacobs and Graham Bowley

Before he handed a revolver that he had declared “cold” to actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the film “Rust” last week, Dave Halls, an assistant director on the film, told a detective he should have inspected each round in each chamber, according to an affidavit that was released Wednesday. But he did not.

“He advised he should have checked all of them, but didn’t,” according to an affidavit, which was signed by Detective Alexandria Hancock of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office.

It turned out that the gun was not “cold.” The revolver, a .45 Long Colt, contained a live round, Sheriff Adan Mendoza of Santa Fe County said at a news conference Wednesday. The gun went off as Baldwin rehearsed a scene Thursday, killing the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, 42, and wounding its director, Joel Souza, 48.

The sheriff said that the “lead projectile” that Baldwin had fired from the gun had been recovered from the director’s shoulder and added that it was apparently the same round that had killed Hutchins. Asked if it was an actual bullet that had been fired — and not a blank — he said, “We would consider it a live round, a bullet, live, because it did fire from the weapon and obviously caused the death of Ms. Hutchins and injured Mr. Souza.”

“We also believe that we have the spent shell casing from the bullet that was fired from the gun,” he said.

Mendoza said that investigators believe they recovered more live rounds on the film’s set at Bonanza Creek Ranch and that they would be sending some of the ammunition they seized to the FBI crime lab for analysis. “We have recovered what we believe to be possible additional live rounds on set,” he said.

It was still unclear why there was any live ammunition on the set — it is generally forbidden on film sets — and how a live round came to be in the gun that Baldwin was handed.

The Santa Fe County district attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies, said at the news conference that the inquiry was continuing and that criminal charges were still possible. “If the facts and evidence and law support charges, then I will initiate prosecution at that time,” she said.

The film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, told a detective that “no live ammo is ever kept on set,” according to the affidavit. Gutierrez-Reed, 24, who had only recently begun working as a lead armorer, told a detective that on the day of the shooting, she had checked dummy rounds — which contain no gunpowder and are used to resemble bullets on camera — and ensured they were not “hot,” according to the affidavit.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins (SWEN STUDIOS/Handout via Reuters)

Just before the shooting, the crew took a break for lunch, she told the detective, and the ammunition was left out on a cart on the set.

Describing the safety protocols on the set, Halls said that Gutierrez-Reed typically opened guns for him to inspect. “I check the barrel for obstructions. Most of the time there is no live fire. She (Hannah) opens the hatch and spins the drum, and I say, ‘Cold gun on set,’ ” he said in an interview with Hancock, according to the affidavit. It was not clear precisely what he meant by the term “live fire.”

Halls said that when Gutierrez-Reed showed him the gun before they continued the rehearsal, he only remembered seeing three rounds. He could not recall if she had “spun the drum,” according to the affidavit.

After the shooting, Halls said, he picked up the gun from a pew inside the church and took it to Gutierrez-Reed. When she opened it, he said, according to the affidavit, he could see “at least four dummy casings with the holes on the side, and one without the hole. He advised this did not have the cap on it and was just the casing.” Dummy rounds are sometimes identified by a pierced hole on the side.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza speaks at a news conference. (Reuters)

Mendoza said about 500 rounds of ammunition had been recovered from the set, including a mixture of blanks, dummy rounds and what the sheriff’s department believes to be live ammunition.

In recent days there has been increasing scrutiny of Halls and Gutierrez-Reed, since they handled the gun before it went off.

Halls, an industry veteran who has worked on films including “Fargo” and “The Matrix Reloaded,” has been the subject of various complaints over the years about safety and was fired from the movie “Freedom’s Path” in 2019 after a gun unexpectedly discharged, causing a minor injury to a crew member. There were at least two accidental gun discharges on the set of “Rust” before the fatal shooting, according to three former members of the film’s crew. Halls did not respond to several attempts to reach him.

Gutierrez-Reed, who also goes by Hannah Reed and Hannah Gutierrez, said on a podcast posted last month that she had just finished filming her first movie as head armorer in another western called “The Old Way,” starring Clint Howard and Nicolas Cage, that is set for release next year. “I was really nervous about it at first, and I almost didn’t take the job because I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but doing it, it went really smoothly,” Gutierrez-Reed said of that movie in the podcast, “Voices of the West.” She is the daughter of Thell Reed, a shooting expert and a consultant to the movie industry.

District attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies speaks at a news conference (Reuters)

Gutierrez-Reed told the detective that at the start of the lunch break, the firearms were secured inside a safe on a “prop truck.” During that time, she said that some ammunition was left on a cart, where it was “not secured,” and some was kept in the truck, according to the affidavit, which was filed in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court and was being used to ask for a search warrant for the “prop truck.”

After lunch, the film’s prop master, Sarah Zachry, took the firearms from the safe and handed them to Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer, according to Gutierrez-Reed’s account to the detective.

“She advised there are only a few people that have access and the combination to the safe,” the affidavit said.

Over the past few days, questions have been raised about how the fatal shooting could have occurred if safety protocols had been followed properly.

“I think there was some complacency on this set,” Mendoza said. “Any time firearms are involved, safety is paramount.”

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