By Daniel J. Chacón and Sean P. Thomas
Source The Santa Fe New Mexican
Three months before a fatal shooting on the "Rust" movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch south of Santa Fe, armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed asked the owner of a film prop weapons company whether she could shoot "hot rounds" on a different movie set.
Seth Kenney, the owner of Albuquerque-based PDQ Arm and Prop, asked Gutierrez-Reed what she meant by a hot round.
"Like a pretty big load of actual ammunition," she replied in the text message exchange.
Despite Kenney's warning to Gutierrez-Reed never to shoot live ammunition out of prop guns — calling it a "serious mistake" that "always ends in tears" — Gutierrez-Reed brushed him off, telling him it was good information to know but "I'm still gonna shoot mine."
The text exchange between the pair, two key players in the high-profile investigation into 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins' death, is among a slew of evidentiary materials the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office publicly released Monday.
Authorities say a prop revolver wielded by Hollywood star and "Rust" producer Alec Baldwin discharged during an Oct. 21 rehearsal, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.
"Those considerations about how ammo was used on a different movie set [only a few months earlier] is concerning because it deals with some of the same people that were employed and had a role in the "Rust" movie set," Sheriff Adan Mendoza said.
Days after the shooting, Mendoza and District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies held a joint news conference on the investigation, which centered on several live rounds discovered on the film set. Key questions for the sheriff's office have been how live rounds ended up on the set; how crew members handled Baldwin's prop revolver before handing it to him; and whether the production team followed firearm safety practices.
Attention quickly shifted to Gutierrez-Reed, hired to handle all firearms and ammunition, and Kenney, who provided ammunition for the set, records show.
Attorney Jason Bowles, who represents Gutierrez-Reed, did not return a message seeking comment late Monday, and efforts to reach Kenney were unsuccessful.
A lawsuit filed in January by Gutierrez-Reed accuses Kenney and his business of supplying her with mislabeled dummy ammunition that included live rounds. It is one of many lawsuits that have been filed in connection with the "Rust" shooting, including a wrongful death complaint brought by Hutchins' husband, Matthew Hutchins, and the couple's 9-year-old son, Andros.
A search warrant affidavit also suggested the possibility Gutierrez-Reed had purchased an erroneous mix of live and dummy ammunition from Kenney.
Kenney has denied responsibility for the shooting.
"Mr. Kenney never handled any of the weapons or ammunition on set, and never provided any direction or guidance to the actors, and was not responsible for the on-set handling of firearms or ammunition," he said in a statement in response to the lawsuit. "These activities, including loading guns and verifying that no live rounds were brought onto set, were the responsibility of the film's Armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed."
Other files the sheriff's office released Monday include crime scene photos, witness interviews, lapel camera videos and incident reports collected throughout the course of the investigation.
Detailed reports show investigators scoured the scene and collected an array of evidence: videos, photos, guns, multiple boxes of ammunition, spent shell casings, computer equipment, blood swabs, fingernail clippings, boots, hats and clothing — some stained with blood.
Shortly after the massive collection of information was publicly released online, the system crashed for several hours due to excessive traffic.
"The amount of people trying to access the Dropbox link was overwhelmed," said Juan Ríos, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Ríos said, "Detectives have not been able to confirm who brought live ammo onto the set. Nobody's confessed to it, but the players that were [on a different movie set months earlier] were the same players here in Santa Fe."
A day before the fatal shooting, Lane Luper, a camera assistant, emailed production manager Row Walters with three safety concerns on the set. Souza and Hutchins were copied on the email.
Among Luper's concerns: the handling of weapons.
"During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose," Luper wrote. "So far there have been 2 accidental weapons discharges. ... To be clear, there are NO safety meetings."
Mendoza said the email from Luper shows the production's "disregard" for safety and failure to meet industry standards.
"That leads me to repeat some of the things that I've said in reference to the disorganization, the complacency and a degree of neglect that was occurring at the 'Rust' movie set," he said.
Mendoza said his agency is still waiting for some evidence testing and analyses, but the months-long investigation is nearing completion.
"We're waiting on the final report from the FBI in regards to the firearm, the munitions and the DNA and latent fingerprint analysis," he said. "We're waiting on the final report from the Office of the Medical Investigator, and the one piece of evidence that we need to analyze still is the data from Alec Baldwin's cellphone. The data has been downloaded, but we have not been provided the complete download and information for analysis as of yet."
Mendoza said the FBI is expected to produce its final report in a few weeks.
"I think [the sheriff's office is] getting very close to having a complete report," he said. "Right now, the investigator's report is a total of 200-plus pages, which gives you an idea of the complexity and the amount of information."
A spokeswoman for District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies did not return a message seeking comment late Monday. But Carmack-Altwies said in a statement to other media the investigation needs to be wrapped up before her office decides whether or not to file criminal charges.
"Once we receive the completed investigation and conduct a thorough and deliberate review of all evidence, a criminal charging decision will be made," the district attorney said in her statement.
State citation spurs calls
The release of investigative files comes nearly a week after the state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau issued its most severe workplace citation to Rust Movie Productions LLC after it found "plain indifference to employee safety" on the film set and a "failure to follow firearm safety procedures."
The sheriff's office released its investigative files, in part, after receiving a flood of inquiries about the case following news of the state's citation, which included a maximum fine of $136,793.
The bureau's investigation report outlined a series of safety violations.
While Rust Movie Productions conducted safety meetings for crew members, the report said, meetings weren't held each day firearms were used on the set; nor were firearms discussed extensively during the meetings.
The investigation also found the production firm failed to develop a process to ensure live rounds were not brought on set.
Firearms were supposed to be loaded just prior to when they would be used in filming. The bureau found Baldwin was handed a Colt .45 revolver during an informal rehearsal, when the crew wasn't planning to film.
Baldwin has said he pointed the gun at Hutchins at her request and it discharged without the trigger being pulled.
The state agency also found the producers failed to take action after two other firearm misfires just days before Hutchins was shot, and they did not act when employees voiced concerns about how weapons were being handled on the set.
Attorney Aaron Dyer, who represents Baldwin and Rust Movie Productions, provided a statement to the Associated Press asserting the safety investigation "exonerates Mr. Baldwin."
A spokesman for the film corporation told the Associated Press it planned to dispute the findings and penalty.
Baldwin was cooperative with investigators, reports say.
"Once medical staff removed Joel and Halyna from the church and into an ambulance," one investigator wrote, "I secured the perimeter around the church with crime scene tape. While doing so I was approached by a male that told me he had to talk to me ... because he was the one that fired the firearm. I looked at the male and recognized him to be well known actor Alec Baldwin."
Another detective wrote: " Mr. Baldwin was asked if he would be willing to give a statement at the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, at which point he stated, 'I will do whatever you tell me to do.' "
In the hourlong interview, a somewhat calm Baldwin recounted the moment the fatal shot was fired, a video shows.
Sitting in a sheriff's office interview room, the actor told two investigators he was handed the revolver by Gutierrez-Reed, who he said handled firearms "99 percent" of the time, for a scene in which he was supposed to slowly reveal the gun before opening fire.
He said Hutchins was standing in front of him because it was a rehearsal and the gun should have been "cold," or without live rounds.
"I take the gun out slowly; I turn and cock the pistol, and bang — she goes down; he goes down screaming," Baldwin told investigators.
"It's supposed to be cold gun, nothing, no flash charges, nothing," he later added. "Now this is a puzzle to me, and this is making me very emotional, in my time ... I have never seen a theatrical flash round where the material went through someone's armpit, came out their body and hit someone in the shoulder."
Baldwin questioned whether the department was investigating if a live round had struck Hutchins and Souza.
He also told investigators the set had been incident-free since shooting had started two weeks prior.
He asked if he was facing charges, and investigators responded it was just an interview.
Shooting rattles armorer
Gutierrez-Reed appeared far more rattled by the incident.
A report says she was sitting in the back of a patrol unit after the shooting and had been examined by medics "due to her hyperventilating."
She was more hesitant about speaking with investigators until she could first speak with an attorney. She then agreed to answer "some basic questions," according to a video of her interview.
Investigators told Gutierrez-Reed she was being interviewed "because she was there."
She told them she had "dummied the guns up with dummy rounds," and when they returned from lunch "that happened."
She and Baldwin were the only people who had held the gun before a lunch break, and then the assistant director, David Halls, held the gun while sitting in for a shot, she said.
All the guns were locked up during lunch, she said, but the blank rounds were left on a cart.
She said she shook all of the dummy rounds, and they "all showed that they were not hot," and did not appear to be tampered with.
Halls, who is identified in reports as a safety coordinator, also has been a central figure in the investigation. Some witnesses have told detectives he handed the gun to Baldwin just before it discharged, according to reports.
One investigator wrote in a report: "I asked Dave what the protocol was for live ammo, to which he said real bullets were never used. I asked if there were any protocols to ensure live ammo does not make it on set, to which he replied no."
(c)2022 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)
Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.