Dave Halls, the first assistant director on “Rust,” became the first person held accountable in the death of Halyna Hutchins when he agreed to plead to a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
In a win for prosecutors, Halls is also expected to testify against Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed when they go on trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.
But in a deposition in December, obtained by Variety, Halls denied allegations about his role in the shooting, and also said that no one person was responsible for Hutchins’ death.
“I think it’s just a tragic series of mistakes that happened,” Halls said. “It’s just like what they say about an airplane crash. It’s like it’s just not one thing, y’know. It’s a system failure.”
Halls’ memory of the events of that day differs in important ways from the narrative that has emerged from the accounts of others. Assuming he is called to testify, the defense is likely to highlight those discrepancies.
“We are aware of the apparent contradictions in the testimony,” said Heather Brewer, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe district attorney. “However, we are confident that there is more than enough evidence to demonstrate negligence and to secure justice for Halyna Hutchins.”
Halls has not talked to the media about the October 2021 shooting, and his account of that day has not previously been told.
On Dec. 13, he participated in a Zoom deposition with attorneys from the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, which is seeking to impose a $136,793 penalty for workplace safety violations.
Hutchins, the cinematographer, was killed while preparing to film a scene at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe. Baldwin was holding a Colt .45 when it fired a single live round. Investigators have not determined how the live round made it onto the set.
Gutierrez Reed loaded the gun, and did not notice the difference in color between the live round and the inert dummy rounds that bore the same Starline Brass brand marking.
Halls has come in for harsh criticism for two actions just prior to the shooting. First, according to the widely reported narrative, Halls took the gun from Gutierrez Reed and handed it to Baldwin. (First A.D.s typically do not touch firearms on set.) Second, he declared it a “cold gun,” meaning it did not carry an explosive charge.
But in his deposition, Halls denied that he had done either of those things.
Halls testified that he checked the gun with Gutierrez Reed — as was their typical practice — and then she was the one who handed it directly to Baldwin.
He also said he did not announce that it was a “cold gun.”
“I don’t have any recollection of me saying that,” Halls said. “I have recollections of Hannah saying it.”
Halls’ version is at odds with Gutierrez Reed’s account, which she has given in police interviews and in her own OSHA deposition, which took place on Dec. 7. She has said that she handed the gun to Halls, and that Baldwin was not in the room when she walked out.
In an email, Gutierrez Reed’s attorney said that Halls is mistaken.
“Mr. Halls is absolutely incorrect on this point and he handed the gun to Mr. Baldwin and yelled ‘cold gun,'” said the attorney, Jason Bowles. “This will be proven in court.”
Investigators also heard contradictory statements from other eyewitnesses. Zac Sneesby, the boom operator, said he saw her give the gun to Halls. But Ross Addigo, the dolly grip, said that she handed it to Baldwin.
Baldwin has given conflicting accounts, initially telling investigators Gutierrez Reed gave him the gun, but later saying that it was Halls. In his first interview, Baldwin said he merely assumed the gun was “cold.” But in the latter account, Baldwin said that Halls declared it a “cold gun.”
Joel Souza, the film’s director, told police that Halls announced a “cold gun” while they were filming earlier in the day. But Souza, who was struck in the shoulder by the bullet, said he did not remember if Halls had also said it just prior to the shooting.
In her deposition, Gutierrez Reed said she never uses the term “cold gun.”
“I don’t like the term ‘cold gun,'” she testified. “I know it got thrown around a lot on the set. That was mostly Dave’s terminology.”
The accounts of Gutierrez Reed and Halls differ in another significant way. In her telling, Halls was the one making decisions about the gun. But in his version, she was.
Gutierrez Reed testified that Halls told her to bring the gun into the church building. She said that normally, when the crew was lining up the camera, she would bring a plastic gun, but Halls wanted her to bring the real one. He also seemed to want it urgently, forcing her to rush.
“He was like, all right, hurry up, bring the gun in here,” she testified. She said she brought the gun, which she had already loaded with dummies, and asked Halls to do a weapons check. Halls answered that “We don’t have time,” she testified.
She said that she spun the cylinder to allow Halls to look at the dummies, and then left the gun with him. She said she exited the room partly due to COVID restrictions on building occupancy, and also because she had to attend to other prop and armorer duties.
“They usually don’t have me in there unless we’re actually shooting the ammunitions,” she said.
Halls told a much different account. According to Halls, Gutierrez Reed brought the gun into the building and showed him that it was empty — containing no dummies. She then handed it to Baldwin.
A few minutes later, she returned and told him, “I put dummy rounds in the gun.” He said that she had decided to do so of her own accord.
“Because it was such a tight shot of this revolver, I think Hannah made a creative decision that, you know, dummy rounds should be in there to make sure that the gun looks like it’s loaded,” Halls testified.
She showed Halls the gun again, and he saw three or four rounds — all of which appeared to be dummies because they had depressed primers. He did not remember whether she spun the cylinder or not. She then gave the gun back to Baldwin, Halls said.
He said he did not know if she left the church after that.
Halls testified that at some point, Baldwin adjusted his shoulder holster and asked Halls to hold the gun briefly. He said that he held it by the handle with two fingers, away from his body, like a “stinky diaper.”
“So that’s the one time I held the gun,” he said.
Asked if he would do anything differently in hindsight, he said that he would ask Gutierrez Reed to load the dummies in front of him.
When the gun went off, Halls said he assumed that it was a blank — a round with an explosive charge but no projectile.
“It was unfathomable that there could ever be a live round of ammunition on a film set,” he testified.
In the chaos that ensued, Baldwin set the gun on a church pew. Halls picked it up and brought it outside to Gutierrez Reed, and watched as she unloaded it. They found five dummy rounds and one spent shell casing.
Asked how a live round could have gotten on the set, Halls answered: “I have no idea.”
Halls defended the overall safety practices of the production. He pushed back on criticism that he did not hold enough safety meetings, saying he did so “almost every day.” And he testified that he believes Gutierrez Reed was a competent armorer.
Gutierrez Reed was unemployed for a year after “Rust.” She now does social media for a commercial real estate company in Arizona.
Halls’ attorney, Lisa Torraco, declined to comment for this story, citing the pending charges.
Halls lived in New Mexico at the time of the shooting, but has since relocated to Minnesota. He worked on about 30 to 40 films over a 30-year career, but has now retired as a first A.D.
“I no longer desire to do that job,” he testified.