I was surprised that the Sante Fe District Attorney’s Office in New Mexico decided to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin for the 2021 shooting death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust. This might just be smoke and mirrors for the DA Mary Carmack-Altwies who’ll be up for re-election in 2024. Her prosecution is going to have to have a hard time trying to prove that Baldwin knew the gun was loaded with a live round.
She seems to be saying that even in an accident, Baldwin should face charges. Ok, well, what if someone at a tire shop doesn’t put the lug nuts on a tire the best and a wheel comes off and causes a car accident. Why isn’t the motorist of the car charged with the accident? They were operating a motor vehicle they should’ve double-checked that the wheels were secured tightly.
Well, there’s the grey area? What I described earlier actually happened in the town I used to work in outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a simple mistake. Someone got busy and they just put the lug nuts on the screws and didn’t tighten them. No one was injured, even though there was a collision. I don’t even know if the worker at the tire shop was charged with anything since there wasn’t any personal injury. It was something that went through the insurance.
Joel Souza, the director of Rust, was also injured in the shooting. But surprisingly, he wasn’t charged. And here’s where Baldwin’s lawyers are going to have some leeway. Carmack-Altwies seems to talk about how the set of the movie was unsafe, but that tasks also falls on directors as much as it does producers. Baldwin was acting as a producer but we don’t know in what capacity. Sometimes, it’s just a name-only credit to get additional funding or a loan from a bank.
Eyewitnesses say they heard someone say, “Cold gun” before handing the pistol to Baldwin. He was supposed to point it at the camera and pull the trigger, even though Baldwin has said that he never pulled the trigger. Yes, you’re supposed to treat every firearm as it’s loaded but if the script calls for you to aim a gun at the camera, what are you going to do? Asssistant director David Halls, who reportedly told Baldwin it was a cold gun, has accepted a plea deal.
Hannah Guiterrez-Reed, who was the armourer on the set, is also charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the case. While she may face some criminal consequences as she was the armourer, Baldwin might be a tougher case for the prosecution. In October, Baldwin and the rest of the producers reached a settlement deal with Hutchins’ estate on wrongful death.
But something tells me, this is more of an issue with Baldwin. Let’s face it, he’s not the nicest guy in the world. But you’re innocent until proven guilty. Many conservative people and gun-nuts are probably creaming in their pants, because Baldwin, known for his liberal beliefs, has been on their radar for 20-25 years. And his parody of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live was the actor in his best form. But some may point to that as one of the reasons people didn’t vote for Trump. It’s been over two years but people still believe in the Big Lie. I don’t doubt that Baldwin has been affected by the event. He has claimed he’s not been able to find work since the October 2021 incident. But his lawyers will clearly use this as a case of selective prosecution. I know I would if I was on his legal team.
Also, the biggest to ask, is why wasn’t Michael Massee or anyone charged on the set of The Crow when Brandon Lee was fatally shot? I know, it’s a difference of 30 years and 2,000 miles and I’m not big on whataboutism. Both Lee and Hutchins were killed by live rounds, even though Lee’s case was more negligent. And the $64,000 question that hasn’t been answered is how did a live round get on the set of Rust and in a pistol handed to Baldwin. Reports have indicated that Guiterrez-Reed wasn’t being careful on set.
If some people in the breakroom at Wal-Mart or Target are being dangerous and one of them gets hurt, you can’t charge the manager who didn’t know what was going on. Also, Souza, as director, should have known more. I’m not victim-blaming here, but I can understand why they didn’t charge him. How are you going to be charged in your own shooting? The whole world is now watching on this.
And that might present a problem in many ways. In the last month, a teacher was shot by a 6-year-old who brought a gun to school in Newport News, Va. In Indiana, a toddler was shown with a gun. There’s also been a video circulating of a father and his 5-year-old son doing weapon safety. According to reports, the kid was holding a Nerf gun, but still. Eventually, you have to point the blame at the parents/legal guardians for leaving these guns out and loaded.
Gun enthusiasts shouldn’t be too happy about Baldwin. It might give more liberal-minded politicians more ammunition to go after gun safety. When I was growing up, my parents had a gun rack with shotguns and rifles. They told my brother and I never to touch them without their approval. We didn’t. But who’s to stop a more curious child from going after a handgun, rifle or shotgun?
Even if the firearms are put in a locked safe, that might not be good enough. Someone gets a key and unlocks the safe and now a parent is facing a negligent charge. It could happen. Push comes to shove, some states may institute locked safe that’s can only be opened by computer codes. I don’t see it happening here in Oklahoma or my native state of Georgia or some other states. But all it takes is some kid getting their hands on a gun from a key-locked safe and you can bet an elected official will push for it even if it didn’t happen in their state.
Of course, no one is addressing the other big elephant in the room. This is obviously the result of safety protocols in the workplace. For years, movie and TV productions have had shooting dates that were long with some cast and crew working longer hours with no days off. Everyone talks about how Michael J. Fox had to be carried to and from the sets of Family Ties and Back to the Future but imagine what that does to someone. And while Hollywood celebrities talk about better conditions for other workers, they don’t practice what they preach.
A college friend of mine who lived in Wilmington, N.C. during the production of The Crow said North Carolina was using non-union workers on the set. There was also rampant drug use that when someone sneezed, Lee reportedly quipped, “Someone just wasted $50.” Production budgets can limit what cast and crew are paid. It’s reported Guiterrez-Reed was only expected to be paid $8,000 for her role as armourer. While the movie’s production was expecting to last a few months, that pay is over minimum wage. But it raises the question of where an armourer should be paid more. Also, Guiterrez-Reed was only 25 and this was her first time. Should they have been a more experienced armourer or possibly a second one to double-check?
Even carpenters will tell you, “Measure twice, cut once.”
Part of the frustration of workers during The Great Resignation is workers say they are very overworked and underpaid. Remember when the Subway employee had a stomach bug and was still expected to make sandwiches when she couldn’t even keep her head up. Now, go back and take at what I was saying about Wal-Mart and Target workers. Neither store has been the bastion of workers’ rights.
More retirees are having to re-enter the workplace and the one area they can go to surely find a job are the big box stores. But how many times have you seen an aging person hunched over the cash register and scanner? It makes me sad. I know they can’t help it with the arthritis and aches. Yet, somehow, we think people sitting down at the register is a bad thing but at the same time we don’t want to scan and bag our own items. We either need to treat workers better, period.
It’s no longer popular to work yourself to death in this country. Having to work 12-hour days for two weeks with no days off isn’t popular anymore. We shouldn’t treat it as something to be proud of. You can still take pride in your jobs. Most of the happiest people I saw were janitors and cleaning people. But I’m sure they probably got a nice salary and benefits.
Now, some companies are telling people to scrub toilets and mop floors in addition to their regular duties off the clock and all they get out of it is a one-topping pizza to share among five other employees. In some ways, we have to examine if Guiterrez-Reed is no different than many other 20-somethings out there expected to do a more dangerous job than she’s experienced or paid.
Like I said, it will be interesting to see how this case plays out. It’s likely the judge will dismiss the case if it can’t be proven that no one knew how the live round got into the pistol. I covered an embezzlement case 15 years ago that the judge dismissed with prejudice (meaning it can’t be refiled) because he felt the prosecution didn’t present a good argument on who had access to the money. We never know how a judge will rule.
We also never know how a jury will vote or how an appellate court will rule if someone is convicted. New Mexico, like many states including Oklahoma and especially Georgia, have a thriving TV and movie business. However, if some filmmaker thinks they could face a criminal charge for an accident, they may choose another state. If anything else, it should make filmmakers to use more precautions. With advances in technology, stunt work can be done with green screens and wires and still changed in post-production.
As the old saying goes, “Better to be safe than sorry.”
What do you think? Please comment.