The family of slain “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins filed a wrongful death lawsuit against 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, New Mexico. The bullet also struck director Joel Souza, who recovered.
The lawsuit alleged that producers of the low-budget film, including Baldwin, 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 allegedly disregarded industry standards for weapons handling. The actor allegedly refused training in the “cross-draw” maneuver that he was practicing that day — just four feet from Hutchins and other crew members, the lawsuit said.
“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. “Alec had the gun in his hand, he shot it, and Halyna was killed.”
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 First 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 of the film.
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. His company supplied weapons to the production but Kenney has said his firm did not supply live ammunition.
“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.
The litigation is the highest-profile claim to date against producers, who’ve also been sued by crew members who witnessed the incident and its aftermath, including script supervisor Mamie Mitchell, gaffer Serge Svetnoy 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.
It also 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 said authorities found other rounds of live ammunition on the movie set.
“There are regulations and guidelines in place today that should prevent something like this from happening,” Panish said. “But they need to be enforced and had they been followed this never would have happened. There is not supposed to be live ammunition.”
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 and was unaware that a rehearsal was taking place. The lawsuit said producers hired Gutierrez Reed to fulfill two important roles, as an assistant to the prop master and as armorer.
“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.
Santa Fe County authorities have not said where the live bullets came from.
Late last year, the family hired the Los Angeles-based law firm of Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi, which specializes in personal injury and wrongful-death claims.
During Tuesday’s press conference in downtown L.A., the law 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. “When we hear all of this about a celebrity involved, don’t lose [sight of] the fact that it is a young boy who will never have a mother and it’s a man who lost his wife who he had a long-term, great marriage with.”
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,” “Blindfire” 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, many crew face on film sets.
On the day of the shooting, crew members walked off the set to protest working conditions and 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.
“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.”