Criminal Charges In Rust Shooting Are Possible, Though Potentially Months Away As Investigation Continues

The fallout continues from the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the Bonanza Creek Ranch set of "Rust," and while law enforcement's investigations may take weeks, perhaps months, the Santa Fe County District Attorney is keeping criminal charges in consideration. Via The New York Times, District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies has not "ruled out anything," and a person or persons could be held criminally liable for the safety failure that resulted in the death of a crewmember. "Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table," she said Tuesday. A press conference is planned for Thursday this week, but an affidavit released on Monday, October 25 lays out the most comprehensive sequence of events so far.

The DA further confirmed that the investigation is ongoing, telling the Times that at this point, detectives from the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office are tracing the events back to determine who loaded the gun and what type of projectile was discharged at Hutchins. She was pronounced dead at University of New Mexico Hospital shortly after actor Alec Baldwin drew the weapon during a rehearsal, without the knowledge of a live round inside. Two people were hit, Hutchins and director Joel Souza. Carmack-Altwies said that it will still take time to file charges if any are warranted. "It's probably weeks, if not months, of follow-up investigation that we're going to need to get to the point of charging," she said to the Times.

What We Know So Far

The DA further clarified that the weapon used in the incident isn't really a "prop gun," but a functional, "antique-era appropriate gun." Details about the make or model of the firearm are still unclear. One warrant details that "Rust" assistant director Dave Halls grabbed one of three "prop guns," (as termed in the warrant which came out prior to the DA's terminology clarification), laid out by Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the armorer. Halls then handed the firearm off to star and producer Baldwin and yelled, "cold gun," which indicated that the weapon did not have any live rounds. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene involving a cross-draw, in which the dominant hand crosses the torso, grasps the handgun, and brings it back across the body, muzzle pointed towards the camera in this case. But when the actor drew the weapon, Hutchins and Souza (who was standing behind the director of photography) were struck in the stomach and shoulder, respectively; Souza was released from the hospital on Friday.

Further details in the days following the incident are damning. Mere hours before the shooting, several crew members had walked off the "Rust" set in protest of poor working conditions — including unsafe prop handling earlier during production. Three crew members who had worked on Dave Halls' previous projects called him out for a history of safety flouting, citing so many red flags that the assistant director's career "should have been done with already," they told CNN. 

The incident has become a rallying point for supporters of the IATSE strike, comprised of union IATSE members advocating for safer working conditions during this year's negotiation cycle for a new Basic Agreement and Area Standards Agreement. A tentative Area Standards Agreement deal was reached on Tuesday, with details about its provisions being kept under wraps for the time being.