What role will ‘Rust’ AD play in Alec Baldwin prosecution?
New Mexico prosecutors, who are building a criminal case against “Rust” movie star Alec Baldwin and gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez Reed, are counting on the cooperation of another key figure in the tragedy: the film’s assistant director, David Halls.
Halls this month accepted a plea deal offered by the First Judicial District Atty. Mary Carmack-Altwies. The film industry veteran did not contest a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a six-month suspended sentence without supervision, according to documents seen by The Times.
Halls also agreed to pay a $500 fine, take a firearm safety course, and do 24 hours of community service. The plea agreement must be approved by a judge, prosecutors said.
Some observers were surprised by Halls’ relatively lenient verdict, given that he was the on-set security coordinator responsible for inspecting the guns along with Gutierrez Reed, the film’s armorer.
According to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s affidavits for search warrants, Halls allegedly screamed “cold gun” before handing the Colt .45 revolver to Baldwin. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene with cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and injuring Souza.
Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed, who admitted loading the gun, were charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter. Anyone convicted of the most serious charge faces a mandatory five-year prison sentence.
However, it’s unclear how much help Halls will provide to prosecutors.
Prosecutors have suggested that a crime trial against Halls would have been shaky.
Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb told NBC News last month prosecutors weren’t sure Hall actually said “cold gun” during the Oct. 21, 2021 trial at the old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe . “He might have looked at the gun, which he did, but we can’t even say for sure if he actually touched that gun,” Reeb said.
Carmack-Altwies, the lead prosecutor, admitted in an interview with The Times that she offered Halls the deal in part “because of his cooperation.”
“Dave Halls approached us and was cooperative with our request, with our investigation,” Carmack-Altwies said. “We had a very open and honest discussion … and we felt like up the ladder of blame he’s probably still to blame [but] that he was the least guilty of the three people.
“He will testify or cooperate with the prosecution,” Carmack-Altwies said.
But Halls’ attorney Lisa Torraco told the Times that her client’s settlement doesn’t necessarily mean he will testify against Baldwin.
“Dave has agreed that he will testify and that he will testify truthfully,” said Torraco, a former prosecutor and a prominent Albuquerque attorney. “But maybe he’ll testify for the defense. Perhaps his testimony will be more helpful to Mr. Baldwin.”
The plea agreement, viewed by The Times, requires Halls “to testify truthfully at any hearing, trial or hearing involving any defendant or co-defendant in the criminal case.” Additionally, according to the document, Halls “must accept responsibility for his actions or omissions.”
Halls, 63, “is not to have any contact with potential witnesses or co-defendants in this case,” the agreement reads.
The plea agreement for Halls — a controversial figure in the film industry — adds to the complexity of the prosecution that Carmack-Altwies and Reeb hope to bring. In the coming months, prosecutors must present their evidence to a Santa Fe judge, who will then decide if there is any probable reason to proceed with the cases against Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed. Your lawyers promise a vigorous defense.
“If you file the state’s evidence first, you usually get all the legal benefits,” Larry Kopp, chief executive of TASC Group, a New York public relations firm that represents high-profile clients on legal matters, said of Halls’ plea deal . “Prosecutors are taking a carrot-and-stick approach to weeding out the weak links in the herd.”
Halls was about five feet from Baldwin when the gun went off. Baldwin told investigators he was rehearsing a cross-draw maneuver as he unsheathed the pistol and pointed it at the camera. Hutchins wanted a camera close-up of the barrel of Baldwin’s gun.
“We stood by and waited for our scene,” Thomas Gandy, the film’s special effects coordinator, said in an interview this week. He and his son had outfitted the church with pyrotechnics that were supposed to go off to simulate a gunfight in the Wild West.
Gutierrez Reed brought Baldwin’s gun into the church and showed it to Halls, Gandy said. Then “she spun the top hat, like you see in movies when someone is playing Russian roulette,” Gandy recalled. “Then she handed the gun to Dave and he said ‘cold gun on set’ and handed it to Alec.”
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s affidavits for search warrants also said Halls said “cold gun” before handing the gun to Baldwin, who repeated that account during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC in December 2021.
However, Halls testified that it was Gutierrez Reed who handed the gun to Baldwin – not him. He said he didn’t remember saying “cold gun.”
In testimony last month for administrative hearings on a health and safety case brought against the “Rust” producers, Halls described the scene.
“Hannah comes in with the revolver, shows me the revolver, we’ll do the gun check. She shows me the gun is empty and gives it to Mr. Baldwin,” Halls said, adding that Gutierrez Reed opened the bolt and “I saw the dummy cartridges in there. … I saw three or four.”
According to the sheriff’s department, there were actually six shots in the chamber, including the live bullet.
Halls, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years, admitted during testimony in the New Mexico Environmental Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration case against Rust Movie Productions LLC that his primary responsibility on set was “to maintain an efficient schedule create. … To make sure things are progressing at the right pace.”
His security role was to “ensure all departments are following proper security protocols,” Halls said in December’s testimony, adding his duties did not extend to inspecting the weapon’s mechanisms. Halls compared the situation to monitoring a movie car chase, saying, “I can’t check the brakes.”
The ‘Rust’ filmmakers were behind schedule on the day of the deadly ‘Rust’ shooting because most cameramen had resigned, citing safety issues and a lack of nearby housing. In an email the night before shooting, Jonas Huerta, the Digital Utility technician, sent a resignation email to the production manager, saying he felt “worried on set”.
“I saw firsthand our AD rushing to get shots and skipping important protocols,” Huerta wrote. “Sometimes he rushes along so fast [a] props [department member] didn’t even get a chance to bring earplugs and he rolls and the actors fire anyway.”
Safety issues were also raised on a previous film set where Halls served as first assistant director.
Months before the “Rust” tragedy while filming an action thriller in Georgia, first assistant camera Lisa Long expressed concerns. She told The Times in 2021 that Halls appeared to be flouting safety protocols, and she reported his behavior to two producers and a union representative, she said.
In this film One Way, starring Machine Gun Kelly, Halls did not hold a safety meeting before filming a dangerous scene involving a Russian arm – a crane-like device attached to a high-speed vehicle during filming. Long said. Two vehicles used by the production nearly collided, she said.
Halls, through his attorney, declined an interview request for this story.
According to Torraco, his attorney, Halls remains devastated by the “Rust” accident.
In the immediate aftermath of the October 2021 “Rust” shooting, Halls can be seen sobbing after a sheriff’s deputy who arrived at Bonanza Creek Ranch described Hutchins’ injuries to Baldwin, Halls and other crew members, according to video from a lapel camera Deputy showed .
Halls told investigators that he retired from the film industry after the accident.
“I don’t want to do this job anymore,” Halls said during his December testimony.
He expressed his thoughts on the tragedy.
“You can’t pin sole responsibility on one person,” Halls said, instead attributing Hutchin’s death to “a series of tragic mistakes that happened. #1, a live round landing on a movie set.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2023-01-31/rust-assistant-director-david-halls-plea-deal-alec-baldwin What role will ‘Rust’ AD play in Alec Baldwin prosecution?