ANALYSIS: Alec Baldwin sheriff interview after 'Rust' shooting
Actor broke all three gun safety rules and killed Halyna Hutchins
Note to readers: Go to this link to watch the full video of the Santa Fe Sheriff’s detectives interviewing Alec Baldwin right after he shot director Joel Souza and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Note to paid subscribers: I put an update from the sheriff’s office today and the status of other investigations at the bottom of this email for you.
Gun safety rules were developed to allow for human error but not get anyone killed. The three rules are: 1) Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; 2) keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot and 3) always assume the gun is loaded.
These protocols are not just for gun owners. They are for everyone who wants to safely handle a gun, including actor Alec Baldwin who said “give me the biggest gun you’ve got” (22:30) when he was choosing the .45 Colt revolver for his movie “Rust.”
After the on-set shooting, Baldwin was interviewed without a lawyer for one hour and 13 minutes by Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department detectives Alexandria Hancock and Samantha Talamante. The surveillance video shows that when they were out of the room, Baldwin tells his wife by phone (she refused to come to New Mexico to be with him) this:
I’m the one holding the gun in my hand that everybody was supposed to have taken care of. They always hand me a cold gun.
That’s Baldwin’s defense from day one: “Everybody was supposed to have taken care of….” But Hollywood actors do not get immunity from the safe handling of a firearm.
Did he get gun safety training?
Baldwin told the detectives that he got to New Mexico on Oct. 11 to start filming on the 13th. He said that on Oct. 12, he trained with the armorer, Hannah Guiterrez Reed, using “the Henry the lever-action rifle and the pistol. I just shot both.”
But he says actors are trained differently than regular people:
DETECTIVE: I know you said you don’t own a gun, but are you experienced with shooting guns? (32:06)
BALDWIN: Only as much as actors have to be experienced.
However, he bragged that he has been trained for years.
If you do a movie, safety with weapons is primary…. Whatever you’re using, they make you go for and rehearse for hours, like a whole day. They are very safety conscious -- as they have been here. (32:12)
I asked Reed’s attorney, Jason Bowles, about Baldwin’s gun training for this movie.
“Baldwin and Hannah had an initial training session, but Hannah specifically asked for follow-up training on the cross draw technique, and Baldwin never attended this training.”
Bowles referred to the texts in evidence of Reed asking her boss, prop master Sarah Zachary, for more “armorer days” to train Baldwin. This text shows Zachary told Reed she can’t get any more time for “training Alec.”
In the interview, the sheriff’s deputies tell Baldwin he’s breaking gun safety rules:
DETECTIVE: Have you and your experience ever been told that you’re not supposed to cock the gun? (48:50)
BALDWIN: No. He [director Souza] wanted me to cock the gun to the scene…..
But Baldwin explains that he knows that just cocking the gun (pulling back the hammer of the revolver) could fire it.
So I always aim to go away. But she was there. And in the rehearsal, he wanted to pull out the gun and cock the gun. And if you’re assuming you have a cold gun, there’s no problem (48:50)
Why wasn’t the gun pointed in a safe direction? (Safety rule No. 1) Did he train to do a cross draw?
Baldwin said he aimed the gun to the right of the camera and Hutchins and Souza were standing to the left. That was not a safe direction because he pulled out the gun from under his left side and aimed it at them.
A cross draw is when the gun is in a holster on the opposite side of your dominant hand. So you have to reach over and turn your thumb to the back, then pull up the gun and across your body.
I’ve trained in a cross draw and stopped each time I started to pull the gun from the holster because I realized I had accidentally put my finger on the trigger. It’s a difficult maneuver.
As Reed’s attorney Bowles said, she couldn’t get Baldwin to train for the cross draw before the scene.
Now Baldwin told the sheriff’s deputies that he had never done this move before that final rehearsal.
BALDWIN: I took the gun, showing him and going, “I’m going to go like this, like this, like this”, cock and turn — bang — it went of… It was the very first time we were rehearsing that shot — the camera shot. (25:00)
But this isn’t true. We have a piece of video evidence — in my story here— of Baldwin rehearsing exactly that cross draw. He has his finger inside the trigger guard while aiming forward — what he calls the “camera shot.”
I asked the sheriff’s spokesman, Juan Rios, when Baldwin did that earlier rehearsal. Rios said it was the same day as the shooting.
If Baldwin wanted to pull a gun out of a holster and point it in a safe direction, he would have had to use a holster on his right side so he never pointed at the crew to the left of him. (Or they would have to switch sides.)
Another way a gun can end up pointed in a dangerous direction is after shooting one round, the recoil will force the firearm back and generally upwards or to the side. It takes effort to return the gun back to the safe direction between shots.
However, Baldwin insists that the .45 caliber revolver had no recoil when he shot it.
BALDWIN: And this time I don’t recall there being any kick either. That’s important [pointing at detective] (31:56)
The detectives followed up with Baldwin on that remark a half-hour later.
DETECTIVE: I want to come back to this. You said that when the gun went off, you experienced no kick? (01:04:21)
BALDWIN: Yeah - there was no recoil, but I did not remember literally, I’m holding the gun.
The detectives asked this because it’s impossible for a .45 caliber gun not to recoil when shot.
Did he keep his finger off the trigger? (Safety rule No. 2)
Baldwin has been insistent since that ABC interview in early Dec. that he didn’t pull the trigger. I’ve written multiple times that it was extremely unlikely he fired with the hammer.
Firearms experts have told me that people not familiar with shooting will put their fingers on the trigger without realizing it. And it’s clear now from the evidence that Baldwin put his finger on the trigger because he was doing the difficult cross draw.
The only other person who has said that Baldwin did not have his finger on the trigger is attorney Lisa Torraco. She represents Dave Halls, who was the assistant director who gave the gun to Baldwin.
Why didn’t Baldwin assume the gun was loaded? (Safety rule No. 3)
Baldwin’s defense is actors are not responsible for checking the chambers to see if a gun is loaded. He says the hired help does it for all movie stars.
But that’s just his personal policy. As I wrote right after the shooting, veteran actors of film and TV told me they always checked their guns on set themselves. (So does George Clooney who is a much bigger star than Baldwin.)
But Baldwin tells the sheriff's deputies that he turned down armorer Reed’s repeated requests that he check to see if the gun was loaded.
BALDWIN: She would show me the gun. Or she’d say, “cold gun.” She’d say “test it” or some language to me as she handed me the gun, and I’d say it was fine. And she’d said, “Do you want to check?” And I always didn’t want to. Didn’t want to insult her.
He says Reed cleared the guns every time in the past two weeks of shooting.
BALDWIN: And the first AD very often will ask periodically. He’ll say, Let me check. And they’ll have two people check for this very reason.”
Baldwin told the sheriff’s detectives that the gun for the rehearsal was not supposed to be loaded at all. He explained that the gun should be a “hot gun” for filming the scene later, by which he means loaded with blanks.
BALDWIN: I’m supposed to have an empty gun.
He said it a second time.
BALDWIN: It’s supposed to be a cold gun. Nothing. No flash charges, nothing.
The actor says he knows what a dummy round looks like compared to a live round — he calls it “the cosmetic clay-based, non-bullet round.”
He describes a blank as looking like this: “The head is the casing and the head is pinched … you know, It almost looks like a dumpling. It’s closed at the top.”
But he didn’t check himself to see this time.
DETECTIVE: Did you see the rounds that were in the gun?
DETECTIVE: Have you seen— throughout the whole time on set — have you seen what they look like?
BALDWIN: I’ve watched her load and reload the gun many times.
BALDWIN: Every time we’ve done this, I’m here to tell you — to testify — that every time we’ve done this, she’s done it right. She cleaned the barrel.
Baldwin demands the sheriff’s deputies go investigate Reed for loading a “live round” and not seeing it when checking the gun before he handled it.
BALDWIN: See, a very important question for Hannah is: Have you ever commingled live rounds with theatrical rounds in your kit? Because they’re forbidden to do that.
The detectives never say it is a “live round”, so how does Baldwin know that? In the most high-profile movie gun death before this one, Brandon Lee was killed when a blank propelled a remnant of a bullet that had not been cleared from the gun chamber.
After 40 minutes, one detective shows Baldwin a photo of the lead taken from Souza’s shoulder.
BALDWIN: It was supposed to be cold or empty, but now, not only did I rehearse with a hot gun, I rehearsed with a gun that had a bullet inside. If that’s what came out of this is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
The detectives don’t tell him until the end of the interview (01:11:00) that Hutchins died of her injuries. Until then, he is angry that a “live round” was in the gun and blames his crew for not finding it. Baldwin orders the detectives to investigate his crew.
I don’t want to tell you your job, but I’m so sick about this — sickened by this — that a bullet passed through this girl’s body. She’s in critical condition in a hospital right now. And I fired the gun. And if you don’t think I feel really shitty about that, I do.
But the question becomes if you ask Hannah, did you commingle live bullets? What they call live rounds — that’s a bullet that a police officer would shoot. Where did that come from in her kit? Did she commingle live rounds with dummy rounds or woody rounds?
How did he get the loaded gun?
The sheriff’s incident reports and search warrants say Reed was not allowed inside the church structure during the rehearsal. It says Halls gave Baldwin the gun after the lunch break.
However, Baldwin tells the sheriff’s deputies six different times that Hannah Guiterrez Reed gave him the gun.
DETECTIVES: Was Hannah the one to physically hand you the gun at that point?
BALDWIN: She disarms me. We go to lunch. We come back to lunch, and they hand me the revolver, the Colt.
BALDWIN: Her. Hannah.
A third time…
BALDWIN: She hands me the gun. I’m assuming she’s done it the right way. She’s done it in the last two weeks. I put it in the holster. I pull it out slowly. We’re rehearsing. We’re not filming anything. I pull it out slow, turn, cock the pistol — bang — it goes off, and she hits the ground.
The deputies give Baldwin a hint:
DETECTIVE: I understand sometimes she’ll hand the gun off to Dave Halls, and then he’ll hand it to you. Did that happen at this incident?
It seems like Baldwin is covering for Halls:
DETECTIVE: Specifically, right before this incident, Hannah handed you the gun and said, “cold.” It wasn’t David?
BALDWIN: No, Hannah handed me the gun.
DETECTIVE: Okay. It wasn’t anybody else but Hannah?
BALDWIN: No. Hannah handed me the gun.
DETECTIVE: And she specifically said …
BALDWIN: I believe she said, “cold.”
A sixth time!
DEPUTY: What about the armorer though — where was she?
BALDWIN: She’s outside. She comes in. She hands me the gun. All the time. If there’s any shooting involved in the scene, she always hands me the gun.
DEPUTY: Never has Dave handed you the gun?
Even two days later, the prop master Sarah Zachary, who was Reed’s boss, sent this text that Baldwin still says Halls gave him the gun.
I asked Bowles about Baldwin blaming Reed in his interview with the detectives.
“Hannah did not hand the gun to Baldwin before the impromptu rehearsal in the church; instead she gave the firearm to Halls,” Bowles said. “Halls announced ‘cold gun’ and handed the firearm to Baldwin, not Hannah, and there is abundant evidence of that.”
Bowles also told me that the armorer should have been inside the set before the rehearsal.
“Hannah was not in the church when the impromptu camera rehearsal with Baldwin was held, and no one called her back in to perform a safety inspection, as they were supposed to do,” the lawyer said.
Do actors have to follow gun safety protocol?
Baldwin’s defense is actors don't have to follow gun safety rules. That’s not true.
Look at the safety bulletin for the Motion Picture and Television Industry that was cited in the New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health & Safety Bureau (OHSB) report which gave Rust Movie Productions, LLC a “willful-serious citation” and the maximum fine of $136,793. My story on that is here.
According to the OHSB, the “Rust” producers — which includes Alec Baldwin — knew the rules and disregarded them.
The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee’s safety bulletin (uploaded below) was written in 2003. It says “treat all firearms as if they are loaded”; “Refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone, including yourself”; and “NEVER place your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot.”
But Baldwin thought he was above the rules. Baldwin didn’t keep his “biggest gun”….