The family of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Alec Baldwin and others involved in the film, alleging that reckless behavior and cost-cutting led to her death.
Hutchins was shot and killed on Oct. 21 while preparing for a scene at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin, the film’s star, was holding the gun when it fired, though he has stated that he did not pull the trigger. Hutchins was shot through the torso, and the bullet lodged in the shoulder of the director, Joel Souza. Hutchins was airlifted to a hospital in Albuquerque, where she died.
She left behind her husband, Matthew Hutchins, and the couple’s 9-year-old son.
“He lost his long-term wife who was the love of his life, and his son lost a mother,” said Brian Panish, who represents Hutchins’ estate, at a press conference announcing the suit. “It never should have happened.”
The lawsuit, filed in New Mexico, cites text messages and emails sent by Lane Luper, the camera assistant who raised red flags about accidental discharges on set, and who left the production with several others just before Hutchins’ death.
The suit also alleges that Baldwin violated numerous rules for the safe handling of firearms. It also suggests that Baldwin committed reckless discharge of a deadly weapon, “which is a criminal offense in the State of New Mexico.” Baldwin has said he does not expect to face criminal charges, though the local prosecutor has refused to rule that out.
Randi McGinn, the estate’s attorney in Albuquerque, said she expected the lawsuit would get to trial within a year and a half to two years, which she said is relatively fast.
“In New Mexico, we’re used to people coming in from out of town to play cowboy who don’t know how to use guns,” McGinn said. “You don’t hand somebody a gun until you’ve given them safety training… No one should ever die with a real gun on a make-believe movie set.”
In addition to Baldwin, the suit names seven producers as defendants — Ryan Smith, Allen Cheney, Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstern, Anjul Nigam, Matthew DelPiano, and Emily Salveson — as well as crew members Sarah Zachry, Dave Halls, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, Gabrielle Pickle, Seth Kenney, and others.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the incident, focusing on determining how a live round made it onto the set. Search warrants have revealed that the armorer, Gutierrez Reed, loaded the Colt .45 with what she believed were dummy rounds. She then gave the gun to Halls, the first assistant director, who proclaimed that it was a “cold gun,” while handing it to Baldwin.
Three other crew members have already filed suit: Mamie Mitchell, the script supervisor; Serge Svetnoy, the gaffer; and Cherlyn Schaefer, the key medic. Gutierrez Reed has also sued Kenney, who supplied ammunition to the set, alleging that he mixed live and dummy ammunition. The production had a liability policy with a limit of $6 million.
In response to Mitchell’s suit, the producers — including Baldwin — have argued that the case should be thrown out because it involves a workplace accident, which should be handled through the state workers compensation system.
Aaron Dyer, the attorney who represents Baldwin and the other producers, issued a statement in response to the suit.
“Everyone’s hearts and thoughts remain with Halyna’s family as they continue to process this unspeakable tragedy,” Dyer said. “We continue to cooperate with the authorities to determine how live ammunition arrived on the ‘Rust’ set in the first place. Any claim that Alec was reckless is entirely false. 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.”
At the press conference, Panish showed a video which included a recreation of the shooting using computer animation, along with supporting material laying out the allegations of negligence.