Rust Movie Productions Fined

New Mexico Environment Department concludes production company knew safety procedures were not being followed before fatal shooting

Nearly six months after Halyna Hutchins died from a gunshot wound on the film set of Rust, the New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has found that the movie’s production company was aware that firearm safety procedures were not being followed.

Hollywood heavyweight Alec Baldwin, who was a star and co-producer on the film, was holding the revolver when it discharged. Neither Baldwin nor anyone else has been charged criminally in the incident, though investigations are ongoing.

According to an environment department news release issued Wednesday, Rust Movie Productions, LLC management demonstrated “plain indifference” to employee safety by failing to review workplace practices. The NMED also slapped the company with a willful citation, including a $136,793 civil penalty—the maximum fine allowed by state law.

“While I realize no fine can compensate for the loss of life, we are holding Rust Productions fully accountable,” Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney says in the release. “In doing so, it is my hope that the attention on this matter results in safer workplaces across our state. Everyone who works a job in New Mexico deserves the right to go home to their family after work safe and sound.”

Hutchins, 42, a cinematographer, was killed on the set at Bonanza Creek Ranch in October of 2021. At least part of a bullet also struck director Joel Souza in the shoulder. Baldwin has said the gun fired without him pulling the trigger.

“Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety,” Kenney says in the release. “This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”

In its notice of citation, the environment department cites film industry national guidelines for firearm safety that require live ammunition never be used or brought onto any studio lot or stage, safety meetings take place every day when guns are involved, and employees refrain from pointing firearms at anyone until they’ve spoken with the appropriate safety representative. The company did not follow those guidelines, according to the NMED.

According to documents released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, Souza told investigators that an armorer checked the guns on the set, and then the assistant director did the same before handing them to the actors. Attorneys for the production have argued that actors should be able to rely on prop departments and armorers, and that any claim Baldwin acted recklessly is false.

The environment department’s 11-page investigative summary released Wednesday details the scope of inspectors’ work and offered new details on the culture on the set of Rust, an 1880s Western.

Inspectors interviewed 14 people and reviewed 566 documents. The investigation paints a picture of lax firearms safety and lack of communication and accountability focus among supervisors on the production.

For example, according to the report, two days before the fatal shooting, first assistant camera operator Lane Luper sent an email to Katherine “Row” Walters, the unit production manager, saying he was resigning over safety concerns.

“During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose,” Luper’s email reads, according to the report. “So far, there have been 2 accidental weapons discharges and 1 accidental SFX explosive that have gone off around the crew between takes.” Luper continued: “To be clear there are NO safety meetings these days. There have been NO explanations as to what to expect for these shots.”

According to environment department inspectors, set supervisors “took no action to review or address worker safety concerns” after learning about the misfires and other complaints. “Management was provided multiple opportunities to take corrective actions and chose not to do so,” inspectors wrote.

Those conclusions and more led to the fine announced Wednesday.

It’s unclear what impact the environment department’s findings could have on the multiple lawsuits filed against Baldwin, or the ongoing criminal investigation into the incident. The production company has 15 business days to pay the penalty or contest the citation with the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission.

Hutchins’ family filed a claim in New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court against Baldwin, accusing him of major breaches of industry protocols. The film’s script supervisor, Mamie Mitchell, filed a suit against Baldwin and the producers in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying she suffered pain in her ears because she was standing only a few feet away when the gun went off. Chief lighting technician Serge Svetnoy, whom Hutchins asked to work on the film with her, also alleges the producers are at fault and responsible for his severe emotional distress in a Los Angeles County lawsuit.

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told Vanity Fair in February she’s waiting on analysis of the firearm from the FBI. She has said criminal charges are not out of the question, depending on the results of a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation she plans to review for evidence of deliberate action. She did not immediately respond to a message SFR left Wednesday afternoon.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said the department is working on a news release for Monday to update the investigation.

“We’re nearing completion, but, again, we’re waiting on other agencies that are assisting us with evidence to finish their analysis,” Mendoza told SFR. “It’s a little out of our control.”

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