Alec Baldwin Seeks to Avoid Liability in Fatal ‘Rust’ Shooting

By | March 11, 2022

Alec Baldwin gave his most detailed account yet of fatally shooting a cinematographer on the set of the film “Rust” last year in an arbitration demand that his lawyers filed Friday against his fellow producers, claiming that his contract protected him from financial responsibility in her death and seeking coverage of his legal fees.

Mr. Baldwin has been named in several lawsuits seeking damages since he shot and killed the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, on Oct. 21 in New Mexico while practicing for a scene that required him to draw a gun. The filing said that he was not responsible for her death, since he had been assured that the gun did not contain any live ammunition and because he was not responsible for checking the ammunition or for firearm safety on the set.

The filing provided new details of Mr. Baldwin’s role as a producer of “Rust,” a production some former crew members claimed in lawsuits had sacrificed safety by cutting costs. While Mr. Baldwin was involved in creative matters, the filing said, others had authority over hiring and budgets. Mr. Baldwin was to be paid $250,000 to star in the movie and act as a producer, it said, but he gave back $100,000 as an “investment” in the film.

And the filing contained text messages that Mr. Baldwin had exchanged with Matthew Hutchins, the widower of the slain cinematographer, which showed how their relationship had deteriorated over time — from mutual expressions of condolence and support in the immediate aftermath of the shooting to the pointed wrongful-death lawsuit Mr. Hutchins filed against Mr. Baldwin this year.

It provided a vivid account of the fatal shooting on the New Mexico film set, which took place after lunch as Mr. Baldwin rehearsed a scene inside a church in which his character, Harland Rust, is cornered and draws his gun.

,Rust’s Colt COCKED quietly now…” the filing quotes the direction in the script, as his pursuers approach. Then, shortly after that: “Colts EXPLODING.,

Ms. Hutchins told Mr. Baldwin how to position the gun, the filing said.

“She directed Baldwin to hold the gun higher, to a point where it was directed toward her,” it said. “She was looking carefully at the monitor and then at Baldwin, and then back again, as she gave these instructions. In giving and following these instructions, Hutchins and Baldwin shared a core, vital belief: that the gun was ‘cold’ and contained no live rounds.”

Mr. Baldwin then asked Ms. Hutchins if she wanted him to pull back the hammer, as the script instructed, and she said yes, the filing said.

“Baldwin then pulled back the hammer, but not far enough to actually cock the gun,” it said. “When Baldwin let go of the hammer, the gun went off.”

It went on to describe the confusion and horror after the shooting, as Ms. Hutchins was flown by helicopter to a hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. It was later, at the end of his interview with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, that Mr. Baldwin was shown a photograph of the projectile that had passed through Ms. Hutchins and then wounded the film’s director, Joel Souza, the filing said.

“Baldwin recognized the object as a live bullet, and he finally began to comprehend what had transpired on the set of ‘Rust’ that day,” it said. “He was shocked.”

In the filing, Baldwin’s lawyer, Luke Nikas, says a clause Mr. Baldwin and his company had signed in his contract with Rust Movie Productions LLC means he bears no financial responsibility for legal fees or claims arising out of the death. The filing, with the JAMS private arbitration service, seeks to enforce the clause. The document names Rust Movie Productions LLC and Ryan Smith, one of the other producers, as the first in the claim.

“Someone is culpable for chambering the live round that led to this horrific tragedy, and it is someone other than Baldwin,” Mr. Nikas wrote in the claim, portraying Mr. Baldwin as a victim who trusted others to do their jobs and is haunted by Ms. Hutchins’s death. “This is a rare instance when the system broke down, and someone should be held legally culpable for the tragic consequences. That person is not Alec Baldwin.”

Representatives of Rust Movie Productions LLC and a lawyer for Mr. Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Nikas described in the claim how, in the weeks after the fatal shooting, Mr. Baldwin had sought to persuade the cast and crew of “Rust” to finish the film to honor Ms. Hutchins, outlining a plan in which an insurance payout and the film’s profits would go to a settlement for Mr. Hutchins and the couple’s 9-year-old son.

Shortly after the shooting, the filing said, Mr. Baldwin had breakfast in Santa Fe with Mr. Hutchins and his son. At the meeting, the filing said, “Hutchins hugged Baldwin and told him, ‘I guess we’re going to go through this together.'” A lawyer for Mr. Hutchins did not comment immediately.

But their relationship, which continued through a series of texts and calls, broke down in the aftermath of a television interview Mr. Baldwin gave in December in which he denied responsibility for Ms. Hutchins’s death; Mr. Hutchins later filed a lawsuit against Mr. Baldwin and followed it by giving his own television interview, on NBC’s “Today” show in February, in which he described being angered by Mr. Baldwin’s deflection of blame.

Although a number of crew members have described the set as unsafe, and several quit shortly before the fatal shooting, the filing said that Mr. Baldwin had not heard about or observed any safety problems on the set.

In the filing, Mr. Baldwin sought to rebut several claims that Mr. Hutchins and some “Rust” crew members had made in lawsuits and in comments to the news media.

Two lawsuits filed by crew members have claimed that Mr. Baldwin should have checked that the gun was safe to handle, even after he had received an assurance from the film’s first assistant director that it was.

But the new filing said that during firearm training for the film, the movie’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, had told Mr. Baldwin that “it was her job to check the gun — not his.” That instruction was similar to what he had been told before, it said. (Asked for comment, a lawyer for Ms. Gutierrez-Reed said he was reviewing the filing.)

“An actor cannot rule that a gun is safe,” the filing said. “That is the responsibility of other people on the set.”

And while a lawsuit filed by Serge Svetnoy, the film’s gaffer, claimed that the movie’s producers had “declined requests for weapons training days,” and Ms. Gutierrez-Reed said that Mr. Baldwin had failed to attend “cross draw” training, Mr. Baldwin’s filing says that he had inquired about lessons a month before he showed up on set and that he had training once he had arrived.

The demand also claims that Mamie Mitchell, the script supervisor, had told Mr. Baldwin shortly after the fatal shooting, “You realize you’re not responsible for any of what happened in there, don’t you?” Ms. Mitchell is now suing Mr. Baldwin and other producers, blaming him for failing to check whether the gun he was handling was loaded. (A lawyer for Ms. Mitchell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

In the filing, Mr. Baldwin and his lawyer go so far as to publish private text correspondence between Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Hutchins. The texts show Mr. Baldwin checking whether Mr. Hutchins still wanted to continue their conversations given the possible legal sensitivities, and Mr. Hutchins agreeing to continue communicating despite, according to the texts, the likely wishes of his legal advisers and press representative.

The filing notes that Mr. Baldwin spoke at a memorial for Ms. Hutchins and that later Mr. Hutchins had shared a photograph of his son with Mr. Baldwin.

Later, Mr. Hutchins filed a lawsuit against Mr. Baldwin, claiming that he had “recklessly shot and killed Halyna Hutchins on the set.” In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, he said it was “absurd” for Mr. Baldwin to deny responsibility.

“Before Hutchins’s appearance on the ‘Today’ show, his interactions with Baldwin had only been polite, collaborative, and, at times, even warm,” Mr. Baldwin’s filing said.

In the NBC interview, Mr. Hutchins spoke in emotional terms about seeing Mr. Baldwin discuss the shooting on television. “I was just so angry to see him talk about his death so publicly in such a detailed way,” Mr. Hutchins said in the NBC interview, “and then to not accept any responsibility after having just described killing her.”

Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.

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