By Anousha Sakoui
From Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES—Alec Baldwin has filed an arbitration claim against the producers of the movie “Rust” in a bid to shield himself from liability and cover his legal fees after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the western last year.
In the arbitration demand filed Friday, Baldwin alleges he was not responsible for the death of Hutchins, whom he shot during rehearsals for the film on a movie ranch outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Seeking indemnification from the “Rust” production company, Baldwin reiterated earlier public statements, saying that he was not in charge of firearm safety or hiring and had been told the gun did not contain any live ammunition, according to the filing with the JAMS private arbitration service reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
“This is a rare instance when the system broke down, and someone should be held legally culpable for the tragic consequences. That person is not Alec Baldwin,” according to the filing. “October 21 was also the worst day in Alec Baldwin’s life. That day has and will continue to haunt Baldwin.”
A spokesman for the “Rust” producers had no immediate comment. The filing was first reported by The New York Times.
The arbitration demand comes after Baldwin and other producers have been accused of negligence by the Hutchins family and others involved in the production. The lawsuits have cited the hiring of inexperienced crew and a raft of safety violations, including accidental gun discharges prior to the fatal shooting. Baldwin has been outspoken about his belief that he is not responsible for the death of the 42-year-old rising-star cinematographer, including in an interview on ABC. Husband Matthew Hutchins expressed outrage over Baldwin’s response in an interview last month on NBC’s “Today” show.
In Baldwin’s filing, the actor details how he tried to support Matthew Hutchins after the tragedy, but the relationship turned sour.
Sharing screenshots of his correspondence with Matthew Hutchins, Baldwin said that the cinematographer’s husband had wanted to confront the crisis together and that he was grateful for the actor’s offers of help and wanted to maintain a relationship with him. Baldwin added he arranged hotel accommodation for the family and spoke at the memorial.
Hutchins’ attorney Brian Panish condemned the filing.
“Alec Baldwin once again is trying to avoid liability and accountability for his reckless actions before and on Oct 21st that resulted in the death of Halyna Hutchins,” Panish said in a statement. “Baldwin’s disclosure of personal texts with Matt Hutchins is irrelevant to his demand for arbitration and fails to demonstrate anything other than Hutchins’ dignity in his engagement with Baldwin.”
Aaron Dyer, Los Angeles-based attorney for Baldwin and other producers of “Rust,” has previously said that they continued to cooperate with the authorities to determine how live ammunition arrived on the “Rust” set.
The filing downplayed Baldwin’s role in the movie, specifying that in small-budget films like “Rust,” he does not have the authority to choose crew or direct noncreative aspects of the production, such as hiring.
Baldwin said he requested gun training by the armorer before filming started.
The day after he arrived on set last October, he received 90 minutes of training from the armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed. Reed had also offered “cross-draw” training, which the actor said in his filing Friday was not focused on gun safety but the motion of pulling the gun from the holster. He said he did not need this training.
The claim contradicts an assertion in the wrongful death lawsuit filed last month by the Hutchins family, who placed much of the blame on Baldwin. Their claim stated the actor refused training in the “cross-draw” maneuver that he was practicing that day—just 4 feet from Hutchins and other crew members.
The Hutchins suit filed in New Mexico alleged that Baldwin and other producers of the low-budget film sacrificed crew members’ safety by hiring inexperienced crew and disregarding safety concerns expressed earlier by camera crew operators. Baldwin in his arbitration claim said he wasn’t made aware of safety issues.
He reiterated that at the time of the fatal scene, he was handed the gun by assistant director Dave Halls and that Halls had said the gun was “cold,” which Baldwin said was a widely accepted term to indicate there was no real or blank ammunition in the gun.
Hutchins directed Baldwin to hold the gun so it was pointed toward her and said that she wanted him to cock the gun, according to the actor’s filing. Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer of the gun but not enough to cock the gun, and when he let go, the gun went off.
Baldwin said his total compensation for his appearance and producing “Rust” was $250,000, but he gave back $100,000 as an investment in the movie. He said he was involved in talks about creative matters such as artwork for posters and worked with director Joel Souza on casting. Souza was also hit in the shooting by the same bullet that killed Hutchins but survived his injuries.
In his claim against Rust Movie Productions LLC and producer Ryan Smith, Baldwin said that accidental killers report symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and that society does not help these individuals.
“Instead, we often pile on to the grief they are experiencing and villainize them as murderers, without putting ourselves in their shoes or considering who is truly culpable for the tragedy.”
Charges have yet to be filed in the ongoing criminal investigation into the incident by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office that has focused on the actions of armorer Gutierrez Reed, assistant director Halls, and Baldwin.
According to law enforcement documents, during a rehearsal, Halls gave the actor a Colt .45 pistol, pronouncing it “cold,” to indicate there was no ammunition inside. However, the gun contained dummy rounds and at least one lead bullet, the source of which is still a subject of investigation.
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