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New Mexico Issues Largest Possible Fine For 'Rust' Film Producers, Citing 'Plain Indifference' To Gun Safety

A sheriff's vehicle is parked in front of a building where reporters and others are gathered.
A Santa Fe County Sheriff vehicle is parked in front of the Santa Fe County Public Safety Building ahead of a news conference following the fatal shooting on the set of the film Rust in October 2021.
(Sam Wasson
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Getty Images)
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New Mexico safety investigators issued the largest fine possible against the producers of the movie “Rust,” saying Alec Baldwin’s fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was the result of “plain indifference” to gun safety.

While no one has yet to be criminally charged in the October incident, the New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau said in its report that the film’s producers and crew completely failed to follow industry guidelines in handling firearms and preventing live ammunition to be on set.

The agency said its fine of $136,793 is “the highest level of citation and maximum fine allowable by state law.”

The report said the film’s producers, operating as Rust Movie Productions, LLC, were “cited for the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set that resulted in a fatality, severe injury, and unsafe working conditions.”

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The report concluded that:

  • Safety training was lacking
  • Earlier reports of accidental gun discharges were ignored
  • An assistant director and safety coordinator Dave Halls, who gave Baldwin the loaded weapon, showed little concern for industry protocols not just on the day of the fatal shooting

The findings were based on more than 1,500 hours of staff time, 14 interviews and review of 566 documents, the state’s OHSB investigators said.

“The Safety Coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns," the report said. “Management was provided with multiple opportunities to take corrective actions and chose not to do so. As a result of these failures, Director Joel Souza and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were severely injured. Halyna Hutchins succumbed to her injuries.”

The report recounts several dangerous incidents before Hutchins was killed that the Rust producers and crew, especially Halls, witnessed but failed to act upon.

A framed photo of Halyna Hutchins, with blond hair, a white dress, and a scarf, depicted with angel wings and a halo. The frame is surrounded by memorial candles burning.
Candles are placed in front of a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honor at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on Oct. 23, 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
(Sam Wasson
/
Getty Images)

“No corrective, investigative, or disciplinary action was taken after the first and second firearms misfires by any member of management. Dave Halls, 1st Assistant Director and Safety Coordinator, was physically present and witnessed these misfires, and chose not to take any corrective, investigative, or disciplinary action. When the Unit Production Manager, Row Walters, was informed by the Props Master and the 1st Assistant Camera that weapons misfires had occurred, Walters did not initiate any corrective, investigative or disciplinary action in accordance with Rust’s safety procedures.

“When the 1st Assistant Camera resigned, informing management that there was an ongoing lack of firearms safe practices (among other labor issues) and that misfires had occurred, Rust management took no action to review or address worker safety concerns. When the Armorer had used most of their contractually limited ‘Armorer Days,’ they were issued a written instruction to focus less on their Armorer tasks and spend more time assisting the Props Department.”

A lawyer for armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed said in a statement, that she “was not provided adequate time or resources to conduct her job effectively, despite her voiced concerns.”

A week after Baldwin’s fatal shooting of Hutchins, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was “some complacency” about safety on the “Rust” set, adding that authorities found 500 rounds of ammunition--blanks and live bullets--on the film’s New Mexico location.

“I think there was some complacency on this set, and I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico,” Mendoza said in an October news conference.

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The issue for prosecutors is whether that complacency and the numerous safety failures highlighted in the new state OHSB report rise to the level of criminal negligence.

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John Horn covers the business of entertainment, examining what's next for Hollywood post pandemic.