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Home / employee safety

NM fines ‘Rust’ producers for safety ‘failure’ that led to fatal shooting

The state of New Mexico announced a nearly $140,000 fine Wednesday against the production company of the film “Rust” for the fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while actor Alec Baldwin was preparing for a scene.

The fine was imposed by the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, which determined firearm-safety procedures were not being followed on the set, and concluded that producers showed “plain indifference to employee safety.”

“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,” New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. “This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”

The bureau fined the production company $136,793, which it called the maximum fine allowable by state law. According to a bureau statement, the citation was issued for “the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set that resulted in a fatality, severe injury, and unsafe working conditions.”

Hutchins, 42, was killed Oct. 21, while Baldwin, a producer and star of “Rust,” was helping to prepare camera angles for a scene inside a church on the film’s set near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Baldwin, 64, was wielding a gun which was supposed to contain only blank rounds, but it discharged a lead bullet that struck Hutchins in the chest then lodged in the shoulder of director Joel Souza, 48. Souza survived the shooting.

“Rust” representatives could not be reached for immediate comment.

Baldwin has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, even insisting in an ABC News interview late last year that he didn’t pull the trigger on the prop gun. His attorney issued a statement Wednesday saying the New Mexico report “exonerates Mr. Baldwin by making clear that he believed the gun held only dummy rounds.”

“Additionally, the report recognizes that Mr. Baldwin’s authority on the production was limited to approving script changes and creative casting,” according to the statement. “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. We are confident that the individuals identified in the report will be held accountable for this tragedy.”

The chief armorer on the set has also denied any wrongdoing, with her attorneys even suggesting there may have been an intentional effort to “sabotage” the set by placing live ammunition in a box containing dummy rounds.

Attorneys for the armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, issued a statement Wednesday saying the OHSA report concluded that production officials “failed to call Hannah in to perform her armorer duties and inspect the firearm right before its use in the impromptu scene with Baldwin.”

“As we have stated before, had anyone from Production called Hannah back into the church before the scene to consult with her, this tragedy would have been prevented,” her attorneys said.

The shooting has triggered an array of lawsuits and legal claims by members of the crew. Following Hutchins’ death, there were reports of upheaval on the set and discord among crew members over safety issues.

When the wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Hutchins’ husband and son, attorney Brian Panish released messages and emails among crew members talking about safety issues on the set, including previous accidental discharges of weapons.

On the morning of Hutchins’ death, “the safety dangers of the production had reached a crisis point,” according to the 29-page suit. “The local camera crew members were so upset by the producers’ utter disregard for … safety that they protested the safety conditions by going on strike.”

The lawsuit alleges that Baldwin and the film’s producers had disregarded at least 15 “industry standards” for gun safety on film sets. The “totality of evidence is just overwhelming,” Panish said.

In releasing their report Wednesday, New Mexico state authorities said the “Rust” production company violated national guidelines for firearm safety on the set.

“The guidelines require live ammunition `never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage,’ that safety meetings take place every day when firearms are being handled, and that employees `refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone’ except after consultation with the Property Master, Armorer or other safety representative, such as the First Assistant Director,” according to a statement from the state. “By failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”

The film’s producers have 15 days to either pay the penalty or contest the fine.

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