Alec Baldwin charged with involuntary manslaughter for "Rust" shooting

Started by OttoVonBismarck, January 19, 2023, 04:45:48 PM

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Somewhat interesting as I did not expect he would be criminally charged:

QuoteAlec Baldwin and weapons handler charged with manslaughter in deadly 'Rust' shooting

JAN. 19, 2023 8 AM PT

New Mexico prosecutors have filed felony criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin and the armorer of the low-budget western "Rust," following the fatal shooting of the film's cinematographer.

The charges represent a dramatic culmination of more than a year of speculation over who, if anyone, would be held accountable for the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, a rising star in the film industry. Hutchins was shot in the chest Oct. 21, 2021, as she rehearsed a scene with Baldwin and the film's director, Joel Souza, who was also wounded.

Baldwin was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins' death.

Prosecutors also brought involuntary manslaughter charges against weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who loaded the gun. The assistant director David Halls, who investigators said gave the loaded revolver to Baldwin just before a rehearsal in an old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular movie location near Santa Fe, accepted a misdemeanor charge in a plea deal.

New Mexico's First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced the charges Thursday, nearly 15 months after Baldwin fired the live round from his prop gun, unaware that the Colt .45 revolver contained live ammunition. Actual bullets are forbidden from film sets, however, investigators later found several other lead bullets mingled with inert dummy rounds.

A cascading series of lapses on the low-budget production led to the shooting, which ignited calls in Hollywood for producers to improve safety conditions for film crew members who have felt stretched to their limits amid a boom in production.

Baldwin was one of the producers of "Rust." With Carmack-Altwies' decision, the 64-year-old Hollywood star — who achieved acclaim for performances on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," and "30 Rock," as well as such as movies as "Glengarry Glen Ross," and "The Hunt for Red October" — could face a criminal trial or accept a plea bargain.

The decision comes three months after Baldwin and the film's other producers struck a proposed settlement agreement with Hutchins' family to end the wrongful death civil lawsuit they filed early last year. The family initially blamed Hutchins' death on cost-cutting measures and reckless behavior by Baldwin and others.
Under the proposed deal, which must be approved by a judge, the movie's production would resume this year. With the settlement agreement, the family's tenor also changed. The cinematographer's widow, Matthew Hutchins, said: "Halyna's death was a terrible accident."

After news of the family's proposed settlement, Carmack-Altwies' office released a statement saying: "No one is above the law."

Baldwin has long maintained his innocence, saying in televised interviews that gun safety wasn't his responsibility and that he did not pull the trigger.

Reports prepared by FBI analysts in Virginia, however, cast doubt on that claim. While the FBI did not conclude where live ammunition came from, agents said in an August report that the pistol, a replica of a vintage Pietta Colt .45, "functioned normally when tested in the laboratory."

The FBI report also noted that, in order for the revolver to fire, the trigger would have been pulled.

"This is problematic for Baldwin because he has insisted that he did not pull the trigger," said Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Mitra Ahouraian. "Those types of inconsistencies are not helpful to his case."

Baldwin has placed blame on Gutierrez Reed and Halls, saying he was relying on expectations that they were professionals and should have done their jobs to ensure safety on the set. Entertainment industry protocols typically task the responsibility for gun safety with the armorer, property master and assistant director.

"All my career, without incident, I've relied on the safety experts [on set] to declare the gun safe and never had a problem," Baldwin said in 2022 at the Boulder International Film Festival. "And [then,] this happened."

That defense might fall short, experts said.

"Regardless of what the practice may be in the entertainment industry, and regardless of what the protocols are on Hollywood sets, that's not the law," Ahouraian said. "The gun was in his hands. And if there's any possibility that you are handling something that could harm someone, then you have an obligation to handle it safely."

Joshua Kastenberg, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, noted Carmack-Altwies approached the case by scrutinizing the actions of everyone who handled the weapon and the live ammunition.

"Everyone in that chain of custody had some responsibility," Kastenberg said. "When considering bringing criminal charges, the 'it's not my job' defense just doesn't fly. If you are holding a gun in your hand, you implicitly have a responsibility to make safety your business."

The October 2021 killing shook the film industry and renewed calls by rank-and-file film workers, including members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and other guilds to better emphasize safety amid a rush by producers to crank out movies and TV shows following COVID-19 pandemic-related production shut-downs. Filming of "Rust," which had a $7 million production budget, was supposed to span 21 days — an ambitious timeline for a period piece, film experts have said.

Baldwin was playing a grizzled outlaw, Harland Rust, who was on the run with his grandson who accidentally shot a rancher dead in 1880s Kansas.

After lunch on that fateful day, Souza and Hutchins were lining up camera angles as Baldwin practiced a cross-draw maneuver inside the old wooden church at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular location for movie productions. Cameras were not rolling at the time.

Sitting in a makeshift pew about four feet from Hutchins and Souza, Baldwin allegedly pulled the replica Colt .45 pistol from his holster, pointed it in the direction of the camera and the gun went off. Hutchins was standing next to the camera; and Souza behind her.

According to Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office documents released last year, Halls — who was the "Rust" safety officer on set — had told Baldwin the gun was "cold," meaning that it did not contain live ammunition.

The gun contained at least one live bullet and dummy rounds, which contained no gunpowder. Such bullets are inert, but look nearly identical to a real bullet when a camera peers down the barrel of a revolver.

If the rounds had been thoroughly checked, Gutierrez Reed, Halls or others should have seen that at least one lacked the small hole or indentation that differentiates so-called "dummies" from actual lead bullets.

They would have also noticed that the live round didn't make the signature rattling sound that reveals that only a BB — and no gunpowder — was contained inside.

Gutierrez Reed, who cooperated with investigators, previously had acknowledged that she had loaded the gun that day. She told sheriff's detectives that she didn't realize actual bullets were contained in a new box of ammunition that arrived on set that morning. The box contained seven live rounds mixed in with 43 dummies, according to a civil suit that Gutierrez Reed has filed.

Following the shooting, she told sheriff's detectives that although she checked Baldwin's gun that day before the unscheduled rehearsal in the wooden church, she "didn't really check it too much after lunch" because the weapon had been locked in a safe during the crew's lunch break.

Much of the camera crew had walked off the job hours before the fatal shooting after complaining to producers about alleged inattention to safety and a refusal to pay for nearby lodging for cameramen who lived 50 miles away in Albuquerque.

There also were tensions about two accidental weapons discharges less than a week before Hutchins' death, including when property master Sarah Zachry accidentally fired a weapon to be used by one of the actors, although she was not injured in the incident.

Additionally, rifts had developed within the movie's small props crew over issues of workload.

Gutierrez Reed acknowledged that she was struggling to perform two jobs — armorer and props assistant. In addition to serving as the armorer in charge of guns and gun safety, she was supposed to assist Zachry with the other props. In text message exchanges with production managers about before the fatal shooting, Gutierrez Reed protested her workload, saying she was being stretched too thin.

A production manager had scolded Gutierrez Reed for not paying sufficient attention to her props role.
"Since we've started, I've had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone's safety," Gutierrez Reed responded in an Oct. 14, 2021 email viewed by The Times. In that email, sent one week before the shooting, Gutierrez Reed noted that on gun-heavy film days, the assistant props role "has to take a back seat. Live fire arms on set is absolutely my priority."

Gutierrez Reed is the daughter of a legendary Hollywood armorer, Thell Reed. While she grew up visiting film sets, "Rust" was only her second film as head armorer.

The accident happened on the 12th day of filming for the scheduled 21-day production.

"There were multiple breaks in the chain of responsibility and if any one of these individuals who are facing criminal charges had exercised more caution, this tragedy could have been avoided," Ahouraian said.

The Times has previously revealed a struggle to find qualified crew members to work on "Rust."

A tough case?

The prosecution could be complicated by the case's notoriety — most everyone in Santa Fe is familiar with the case, increasing the challenges of finding an impartial jury. What's more, the defendants could bring a spirited defense.

"This is a huge case for a smaller population county," Kastenberg, a former prosecutor, said. "Whenever you go up against a powerful entity — like a Hollywood star who has a tremendous media reach — you want to get it right and you don't want to look like a fool."

The media spotlight adds to the pressure facing Carmack-Altwies and her office.

"The D.A. wants to show their constituency that they are not afraid to take any case, and that they will handle it ethically, and rightly," Kastenberg said. "This one might become politicized. But, as the D.A., you can only bring charges that the evidence supports."

In addition to the criminal cases, several civil negligence suits are pending.

Two film crew members inside the church when the shooting occurred — lighting technician Serge Svetnoy, who was nearly hit by the bullet, and script supervisor Mamie Mitchell — sued.

Gutierrez Reed last year sued the weapons provider, Seth Kenney of PDQ Arm & Prop, alleging that he supplied a mismarked box of ammunition containing live rounds to the set, contributing to the deadly accident. Kenney has said he did not provide live ammunition to the 'Rust' set.

Hutchins was killed just as her career was beginning to take off in a largely male-dominated field. She graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2015 and had been selected as one of American Cinematographer's Rising Stars of 2019.

The movie's producers have denied responsibility for the tragedy.

In a filing to the New Mexico Environment Department's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, Rust Movie Productions LLC said that it was not responsible for Hutchins' death, maintaining that the producers did not serve as the on-set employers. The filing came in response to the workplace health and safety bureau's decision, last April, to impose the maximum penalty, $136,793 fine, on Rust Movie Productions.

The New Mexico agency accused production managers of "plain indifference" to employee safety and said management knew firearm safety procedures were not being followed on set. Rust Movie Productions LLC appealed the finding, saying the fine was not warranted.

Rust Movie Productions has denied wrongdoing, and the case is going through an appeals process. New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission has scheduled an eight-day hearing on the matter in April. Each side will have four days to present their case.

Meanwhile, producers hope to resume production of the movie "Rust" this spring near Los Angeles.

The Brain

FYI: I thought about starting a thread, but I posted in the OT thread instead, so there's a discussion there.
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jimmy olsen

 I will be surprised if he gets convicted. Seems like it would be easy to push all the  blame onto the armorer.
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The Minsky Moment

Involuntary manslaughter typically requires proof of recklessness/criminal negligence.  However, it can also be charged as "misdemeanor manslaughter" - similar to "felony murder".  If act that qualifies as a criminal misdemeanor results in someone's death, then involuntary manslaughter can be charged.

So my guess is that the play here is to contend that Baldwin is guilty of negligent use of a deadly weapon, under NM Stat 30-7-4, and that such negligent use resulted in death.  Bingo, misdemeanor manslaughter.
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FYI: Teh Brain thought about starting a thread, but he posted in the OT thread instead, so there's a discussion there.
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Moving it back here as don't want to de-rail Off Topic - but this from the NYT is on a wider issue but suggests Baldwin talking to the police (and perhaps a little over-confidently - suggesting next steps in the investigation) may be part of this charge:
QuoteAlec Baldwin Didn't Have to Talk to the Police. Neither Do You.
Jan. 25, 2023
By Farhad Manjoo
Opinion Columnist

Shortly after a prop gun Alec Baldwin was holding fired a bullet that killed a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of the movie "Rust," in October 2021, he told the police in New Mexico that he'd be willing to do whatever they requested, including sitting for an interview at the station.

In an interrogation room later that afternoon, detectives began by informing Baldwin of his rights: He had the right to remain silent. Anything he said could be used against him in court. He was free to consult with an attorney; if he could not afford an attorney, one would be appointed for him. And he could stop the interrogation at any point he wished.

"My only question is, am I being charged with something?" Baldwin asked.

Not at all, the police said. Reading his rights, one detective told him, was "just a formality."

And so, without his attorney present, while the police recorded him, Baldwin talked. And talked. And talked. At that point, Baldwin knew only that the film's director, Joel Souza, and its cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, had been injured; detectives would inform him at the end of the interrogation that Hutchins had died. Still, for about an hour, Baldwin not only answered detectives' many questions about the shooting but also offered his own theories about the incident and suggested the next steps the police might pursue in their investigation.

To people unfamiliar with the American criminal justice system, Baldwin's decision sounds reasonable: Something terrible happened, and he wanted to help. But defense lawyers I talked to said Baldwin's case should serve as a reminder that if you are involved in a serious incident, it's best not talk to the police unless you have an attorney present.

Prosecutors in New Mexico announced last week that they planned to charge Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film's armorer, who is responsible for weapons on a movie set, with involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins's death. They argue that Baldwin had a responsibility to check that the gun he was holding was safe. The prosecutor's argument has shocked many in the film industry who say that it is the crew's responsibility, not an actor's, to ensure that weapons are safe.

In that first police interview, Baldwin told interrogators that Gutierrez-Reed handed him the gun and assured him it was safe: "She said, 'Do you want to check?' — and I didn't want to insult her, we never had a problem. I said, 'I'm good.'"

Prosecutors have yet to file charges, so it is not clear what evidence they would use against Baldwin or what their legal arguments will be — but given that they've said Baldwin violated his legal responsibility to use the gun safely, his admission that he never checked the gun may itself incriminate him.

Also, in a second conversation with the police a week later, Baldwin said it was actually Dave Halls, the film's first assistant director, who handed him the gun while announcing, "cold gun." (Halls has since agreed to a plea deal with prosectors.)

"It presents a huge problem if he ever wants to actually testify," Joshua Ritter, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Los Angeles, said of Baldwin's decision to talk to cops as well as the news media. "If he takes the stand to try to explain his side of things to the jury," he will need to explain any possible contradictions in these prior statements, Ritter said.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows Americans to refuse to answer questions from law enforcement. Yet despite the ritualistic incantation on the Miranda warning on every TV police procedural, silence is a right that people can find hard to accept. If you're convinced of your innocence, aren't you obligated to help the police solve the matter under investigation? Refusing to talk to the police seems like something people do only when they've got something to hide.

I have only a passing interest in Baldwin's guilt or innocence. Several years ago, though, I came upon the work of James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School in Virginia who has become a Johnny Appleseed of Fifth Amendment advocacy. A video of a lecture Duane gave a decade ago on the importance of the Fifth Amendment, "Don't Talk to the Police," has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, and Duane has since given his talk dozens of times around the country. The title of his book "You Have the Right to Remain Innocent" sums up the case for silence, since the presumption of innocence and the burden prosecutors bear to prove guilt even when the accused remains silent are the bedrock of American criminal law.

Duane's work has turned me into a zealot for the right to remain silent — and when I watched Baldwin blithely sign away his rights, I winced. (His talking to several reporters about the case would be a separate concern.)

Of course, we have no idea how Baldwin's words will play in his case. But his case hints at the danger that innocent people with far less money and power than Baldwin can bring upon themselves by doing what they think is the "right thing" — talking to the police.

"The average American — even if they're a highly sophisticated college graduate or a law school student — really doesn't know an awful lot about the many different ways in which even innocent people can regret for the rest of their lives the biggest mistake of their lives, the decision to waive their Fifth Amendment right and agree to talk to the police," Duane told me.

Looking beyond the Baldwin case, Duane argues that a key danger is that in trying to defend yourself to the police, you may unwittingly admit some wrongdoing. Navigating around such dangers is made all the more difficult because courts have given the police wide leeway to lie to people being interrogated.

"They will lie to you about what crime they are actually investigating," Duane writes in his book, "whether they regard you as a suspect, whether they plan to prosecute you, what evidence they have against you, whether your answers may help you, whether your statements are off the record, and whether the other witnesses have agreed to talk to them — even about what those witnesses have or have not said."

When you talk to the police, it's unlikely that your whole story will be relayed to the jury during a trial. Duane argues that federal and state rules of evidence make it much easier for prosecutors and the police to present damaging statements from an interrogation than for defense attorneys to present exculpatory information from the same interview. Say you vehemently deny shooting a man, explain that you've never owned a gun and don't know how to shoot, and point out that you weren't anywhere near the scene of the crime — but also admit, in passing, that, "Yeah, sure, I never liked the guy, but who did?" Even if all of that is true, Duane says, the jury might hear only the worst at trial, with an officer testifying, "He admitted to me that he never liked the guy."

Duane says that while prosecutors can ask an officer who interviewed a defendant anything they want about the statement, hearsay rules can greatly limit what defense attorneys can elicit from the officer on cross-examination about other portions of the same statement.

Do these scenarios sound far-fetched? The data says otherwise. Since 1989, the Innocence Project has used DNA evidence to help exonerate 375 innocent people falsely convicted of crimes. About 29 percent of the exonerated had been convicted in part because of false confessions. Research has found that most false confessions occur after interrogations lasting a half dozen hours or more and that virtually all involve police officers lying to suspects. Many also involve implicit promises of leniency that may give suspects an impression that talking is their only way out.

The Fifth Amendment is no mere formality. It is among the best defenses against government overreach that Americans enjoy. We should guard it vigorously. Anytime you're asked to talk to the police about an incident you are involved in, there are just four words you need to say: "I want a lawyer."
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I've never once heard of any attorney advising someone, by themselves, to talk to police. When the situation is one where most of the key facts are not in doubt--Hutchins was killed, Baldwin killed her, by all accounts accidentally, nothing you tell police in an interview is likely to make the situation better for you, and it can certainly make it much worse.


Yeah, he's a guy who's never had reason to believe the police aren't benignly disposed towards him... and I guess it turns out that in this case they may not be.

Admiral Yi

The author of Shelf's piece undercuts himself when he makes the leap from talking to police w/out a lawyer to signing a confession for a crime one didn't commit.


Quote from: Admiral Yi on January 25, 2023, 03:18:59 PMThe author of Shelf's piece undercuts himself when he makes the leap from talking to police w/out a lawyer to signing a confession for a crime one didn't commit.

You don't believe statements made to the police can (and will) be used against you unless you sign an actual confession?  :huh:

crazy canuck

Quote from: Jacob on January 25, 2023, 03:50:27 PM
Quote from: Admiral Yi on January 25, 2023, 03:18:59 PMThe author of Shelf's piece undercuts himself when he makes the leap from talking to police w/out a lawyer to signing a confession for a crime one didn't commit.

You don't believe statements made to the police can (and will) be used against you unless you sign an actual confession?  :huh:

Yeah, not sure what Yi is referring to.  Everything you say to the police can (and if incriminating will) be used against you regardless of whether you sign anything.

That is why no lawyer would ever advise their client to have a chat with police.  The police told Baldwin his rights, which includes the right to remain silent.  It is always wise to exercise that right, and not speak to police without first speaking to a lawyer and having the lawyer present.
I want you to panic

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Admiral Yi

Quote from: Jacob on January 25, 2023, 03:50:27 PMYou don't believe statements made to the police can (and will) be used against you unless you sign an actual confession?  :huh:

:scratches head:

No, I believe talking to police without a lawyer and signing a confession for a crime you didn't commit are two separate and distinct things.

crazy canuck

Quote from: Admiral Yi on January 25, 2023, 03:55:22 PM
Quote from: Jacob on January 25, 2023, 03:50:27 PMYou don't believe statements made to the police can (and will) be used against you unless you sign an actual confession?  :huh:

:scratches head:

No, I believe talking to police without a lawyer and signing a confession for a crime you didn't commit are two separate and distinct things.

Scratches head even more.  If you confess a crime to police, you do not need to sign a confession - you have already confessed...
I want you to panic

"Woke" is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history.


If you go to meet the cops do you still get read your Miranda rights, or is that only if you're arrested?
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Also making sure you have a lawyer means you're not going to be questioned for over six hours which, according to that article, is the case in most false confessions subsequently exonerated by the Innocence Project - plus, I imagine, various other devices used by police to get people talking.

Although I agree with his point I didn't really post it for that - just the details of what Baldwin said which helped me understand a little more why he's being charged.
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