Rust producers fined maximum amount for safety lapses that led to gun death

The state of New Mexico on Wednesday issued its maximum citation against the producers of the western movie Rust for safety lapses before what the authorities called the “avoidable” shooting death of the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during filming last autumn.

An investigation into Hutchins’ death found the company, Rust Movie Productions, knew firearm safety procedures were not being followed on set and demonstrated “plain indifference” to employee safety, the New Mexico environment department said in a statement.

New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau said Rust Movie Productions must pay $139,793, and distributed a scathing narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set before the fatal shooting.

The bureau also documented gun safety complaints from crew members that went unheeded and said weapons specialists were not allowed to make decisions about additional safety training.

“What we had, based on our investigators’ findings, was a set of obvious hazards to employees regarding the use of firearms and management’s failure to act upon those obvious hazards,” Bob Genoway, bureau chief for occupational safety, told the Associated Press.

The Santa Fe sheriff’s office is still examining the case. Actor and producer Alec Baldwin handled a prop gun on set last October that discharged a live bullet, despite a pronouncement beforehand that it did not contain live rounds, killing Hutchins and wounding the director Joel Souza.

At a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on 21 October last year, Baldwin was pointing a gun at cinematographer Hutchins inside a small movie-set church, during set-up for the filming of a scene, when the gun went off, passing through Hutchins’ torso and wounding Souza in the shoulder.

Baldwin said in a December interview with ABC News that he was pointing the gun at Hutchins at her instruction when it went off without his pulling the trigger.

The new occupational safety report confirms that a large-caliber revolver was handed to Baldwin by an assistant director, David Halls, without consulting with on-set weapons specialists during or after the gun was loaded.

Regulators noted that Halls also served as safety coordinator and that he was present and witnessed two accidental discharges of rifles on set, and that he and other managers who knew of the misfires took no investigative, corrective or disciplinary action. Crew members expressed surprise and discomfort.

“The safety coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns,” the report said. “Management was provided with multiple opportunities to take corrective actions and chose not to do so. As a result of these failures, Director Joel Souza and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were severely injured. Halyna Hutchins succumbed to her injuries.”

A spokesman for Rust Movie Productions did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Baldwin shared a statement from his lawyers on his Twitter account that said: “We appreciate that the report exonerates Mr Baldwin by making clear that he believed the gun held only dummy rounds.”

Luke Nikas, a lawyer for Baldwin, told the New York Times: “Mr Baldwin had no authority over the matters that were the subject of the bureau’s findings of violations and we are pleased that the New Mexico officials have clarified these critical issues.”

At the time, film industry figures spoke out about the wider issues of dangerous conditions amid cost-cutting being rife some parts of the movie-making world, as well as about individual conduct.

Just days after Hutchins’ death, a vigil in Los Angeles served both as an unofficial memorial event and an outlet for anger over working strictures in Hollywood that many lower-paid crew believe were linked.

James Kenney, the secretary of the environment department that oversees occupational safety in New Mexico, said the agency dedicated 1,500 staff hours to its investigation, examined hundreds of documents and conducted at least a dozen interviews with cast and crew members.

Investigators found production managers placed tight limits on resources for a small team that controlled weapons on set and failed to address concerns about a shotgun left unattended twice.

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the daughter of a sharpshooter and consultant to film productions, was limited to eight paid days as an armorer to oversee weapons and training, and was assigned otherwise to lighter duties as a props assistant. As her time as an armorer ran out, Gutierrez Reed warned a manager and was rebuffed.

Safety investigators also found that the production company did not develop a process to ensure live rounds of ammunition were not brought on set, in violation of industry safety protocols. Safety meetings were conducted, but not every day that weapons were used, as required.

Kenney said the separate investigations into possible criminal charges were still under way.

He said his agency received no direct safety complaints from cast or crew before the fatal shooting, even though anonymity is offered.

“This tragedy, this loss of life, it could have been prevented, and we want people to say something,” he said.

Among numerous lawsuits that have been filed, Hutchins’s family have sued Baldwin and others involved in the film, alleging that reckless behavior and cost-cutting led to her wrongful death.

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