Family of ‘Rust’ cinematographer shot by Alec Baldwin files wrongful-death lawsuit
The family of slain “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against actor Alec Baldwin and other film producers Tuesday, blaming the tragedy on cost-cutting measures and reckless behavior by Baldwin and others.
Hutchins, 42, was fatally wounded Oct. 21 when Baldwin pulled a revolver from his holster and fired it toward Hutchins and other crew members during a rehearsal on the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set near Santa Fe, N.M. The bullet also struck director Joel Souza, who recovered.
The lawsuit alleged that Baldwin and other producers of the low-budget film sacrificed crew members’ safety by hiring inexperienced crew members and disregarding safety concerns expressed earlier by camera crew operators.
The lawsuit placed much of the blame on Baldwin, who, according to the lawsuit, refused training in the “cross-draw” maneuver that he was practicing that day — just four feet from Hutchins and other crew members.
“There are many people culpable, but Mr. Baldwin was the person holding the weapon,” the family’s Los Angeles-based attorney Brian Panish said during a news conference.
The lawsuit is the latest in a wave of litigation against producers sparked by the shooting in New Mexico that sent shockwaves through Hollywood and renewed calls for stricter gun safety measures on film sets.
Panish and an Albuquerque-based attorney, Randi McGinn, filed the lawsuit in New Mexico’s 1st Judicial District Court on behalf of Hutchins’ 39-year-old husband Matthew, an attorney who works out of the L.A. office of Latham & Watkins, and their 9-year-old son Andros.
The defendants include Rust Movie Productions LLC, Baldwin, 3rd Shift Media, Thomasville Pictures and other individual producers.
The suit also names first assistant director David Halls, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, prop master Sarah Zachry and weapons provider Seth Kenney of PDQ Arm & Prop.
“Defendant Baldwin and the other defendants in this case failed to perform industry standard safety checks and follow basic gun safety rules while using real guns to produce the movie ‘Rust’ with fatal consequences,” said Tuesday’s complaint.
Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer killed on set of an Alec Baldwin movie, was going to be ‘very famous,’ a director who worked with her said.
The litigation is the highest-profile claim to date against producers, who’ve also been sued by crew members, including script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and on-set medic Cherlyn Schaefer, who struggled to treat Hutchins’ extensive wounds as she lay dying on the wooden planks on the floor of a church set.
“Everyone’s hearts and thoughts remain with Halyna’s family as they continue to process this unspeakable tragedy. We continue to cooperate with the authorities to determine how live ammunition arrived on the “Rust” set in the first place,” Aaron Dyer, Los Angeles-based attorney for Baldwin and other producers of “Rust” said in a statement.
“Any claim that Alec was reckless is entirely false,” Dyer said. “He, Halyna and the rest of the crew relied on the statement by the two professionals responsible for checking the gun that it was a “cold gun” — meaning there is no possibility of a discharge, blank or otherwise. This protocol has worked on thousands of films, with millions of discharges, as there has never before been an incident on a set where an actual bullet harmed anyone. Actors should be able to rely on armorers and prop department professionals, as well as assistant directors, rather than deciding on their own when a gun is safe to use.”
In a statement, Kenney reiterated that his company did not supply live ammunition to ‘Rust,’ and that he did not visit the set on the day of the shooting. He said responsibility for handling of firearms and ammunition fell to Gutierrez Reed and that he did not act as her “armorer mentor,” as he had been described on a crew list. Kenney has previously said the description was erroneous.
“We are confident that when the investigation concludes, Mr. Kenney and PDQ will be completely absolved of any responsibility for the tragedy,” he said in a statement. “As to Mr. Kenney and PDQ, today’s unfortunate lawsuit is without merit.”
The suit comes amid an ongoing criminal investigation into the incident by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office that has focused on the actions of Gutierrez Reed, Halls and Baldwin. Investigators have been trying to determine how a live bullet wound up on the set of “Rust.”
According to law enforcement documents, during a rehearsal Halls handed Baldwin a replica of a vintage Colt .45 pistol, pronouncing it “cold,” to signal there was no ammunition inside. However, the gun contained dummy rounds and at least one lead bullet. The Hutchins’ lawsuit alleged that Halls was unqualified to be handling the gun.
Gutierrez Reed had loaded the weapons that day, according to affidavits filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. But she told sheriff’s detectives that she didn’t realize that actual bullets were contained in a new box of ammunition that arrived on set that day. The lawsuit said Gutierrez Reed and Kenney acted “negligently, intentionally [and] recklessly” by allowing live ammunition to be on the movie set and not adequately inspecting the guns and ammunition.
Panish, of the L.A. firm Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi, said authorities found other rounds of live ammunition on the movie set.
“Somebody doesn’t get shot on a movie set. When was the last time that happened?” Panish asked. “This doesn’t happen unless people cut costs and engage in reckless behavior, leading to a senseless, tragic death.”
The 24-year-old armorer told the detectives she checked Baldwin’s gun that day before the unscheduled rehearsal, although she “didn’t really check it too much” because the weapon had been locked in a safe during a lunch break. Gutierrez Reed also told deputies that she was stretched too thin performing her props role.
“Defendant Baldwin and the other Producers were aware that Defendant Gutierrez-Reed was unqualified, and they ignored Defendant Gutierrez-Reed’s concerns that performing the dual roles of armorer and assistant prop master would result in lapses in basic firearm safety,” the lawsuit said.
During Tuesday’s news conference in downtown L.A., Panish’s firm played a nearly 10-minute animated video that reconstructed the shooting inside the church at the ranch. Panish said the account was based on information from witnesses and gun experts.
The suit did not specify damages, but Panish said he expects them to be “substantial.”
Matt Hutchins “lost his long-term wife, who was the love of his life, and his son has lost a mother,” Panish said. “Anyone that’s even been close to experiencing that knows that that goes on forever.”
Originally from Ukraine, Hutchins was killed just as her career was beginning to take off in a largely male-dominated field.
Hutchins graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2015 and had been selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019.
She was starting to make a bigger name for herself after a string of indie features including “Archenemy,” and “The Mad Hatter.”
Before getting into feature films, she worked as an investigative journalist on British documentary productions.
Her death highlighted the difficult working conditions, including long working hours, that many crews face on film sets.
In email exchange before shooting, ‘Rust’ armorer said she needed to focus on weapons, not props
In the email exchange, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed said she couldn’t simultaneously focus on two roles: “That’s when mistakes get made.”
On the day of the shooting, crew members walked off the set to protest working conditions and a lack of safety protocols, including accidental gun discharges, The Times reported. Rather than investigate the concerns expressed by camera crews, the video said, the producers seemed more concerned about pressing ahead with the day’s film schedule.
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.