Prosecutors indicated Wednesday that actor Alec Baldwin has not been ruled out for criminal charges in the accidental killing of a cinematographer on a movie set last week.
Investigators believe Baldwin’s gun fired a single live round that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza last Thursday on the set of the low-budget western “Rust” being filmed in New Mexico.
Appearing alongside Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said that while the man who handed Baldwin the gun admitted he didn’t fully check it, it was not out of the question that the Hollywood star — who also served as a producer on the movie — could be indicted.
“All options are on the table. No one has been ruled out at this point,” she told a press conference.
Carmack-Altwies said investigators could not say yet whether it was negligence or by whom. She called it a complex case that will require more research and analysis.
“It will take many more facts, corroborated facts, before we can get to that criminal negligence standard,” she said.
Investigators said they planned to follow up on reports of other incidents involving misfires with guns on the set.
Assistant director Dave Halls told detectives he remembers seeing ammunition in the period weapon before he handed it to Baldwin. Moviemakers sometimes use inert, or dummy, bullets in props.
“He advised he should have checked all of them, but didn’t, and couldn’t recall if [armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed] spun the drum” to show him what was inside the gun, an affidavit says.
Halls handed Baldwin the weapon using the phrase “cold gun” — industry lingo for an inert firearm.
The investigation has recovered 500 rounds of ammunition from the set, Sheriff Adan Mendoza told reporters, adding that detectives believe they were a mix of blanks, dummies and live rounds.
Entertainment trade website The Wrap reported this week that crew members had been using prop weapons just hours before Hutchins was killed, shooting at tin cans for target practice.
“We have recovered what we believe to be possible additional live rounds on set,” Mendoza said.
“We’re going to determine how those got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there. I think there was some complacency on this set,” he added.
Mike Tristano, a veteran armorer, or movie weapons specialist, was alarmed to hear that live rounds were mixed in with blanks and dummy rounds.
“I find that appalling,” Tristano said. “In over 600 films and TV shows that I’ve done, we’ve never had a live round on set.”
The shooting has baffled Hollywood professionals and prompted calls to better regulate firearms on sets or even ban them in the age of seamless computer-generated imagery.
As the film’s armorer, Gutierrez-Reed, 24, would have been responsible for supplying and keeping weapons safe on set, ensuring that they are accounted for at all times and locked away when not in use.
She told detectives that on the day of the incident guns were secured while the crew ate lunch, but that ammunition was not, according to the affidavit.
Mendoza told reporters more questions were being asked of the people who “inspected or handled the firearm… before it got to Mr. Baldwin.”
“We’re going to try to determine exactly how that happened and if they should have known that there was a live round in that firearm.”
“Rust” crew members had complained about lax on-set protocols, and a gun was mistakenly fired at least twice on set in the days before Hutchins’ death, multiple American outlets have reported.
Legal experts told AFP that despite there being no doubt that Baldwin, 63, pulled the trigger, he is unlikely to be charged with a crime.
“[Baldwin] appears to have reasonably believed that this was not a loaded weapon,” said University of Southern California law professor Gregory Keating. This fact would leave him some way short of being culpable for involuntary manslaughter.
More likely, said legal consultant Bryan Sullivan, Baldwin and his fellow producers — there are 12 people credited with variations of this role — are likely to face action for civil damages.
“I anticipate that everybody’s going to be sued,” he said.
Baldwin is expected to be named in any lawsuit because of his deep pockets, and because his fame would help draw media coverage, according to Sullivan.
“A plaintiff’s lawyer would definitely want to name Alec Baldwin to get the money in there,” he added.