The chief of lighting on Rust filed a negligence lawsuit Wednesday against the film’s producers — including Alec Baldwin — as well as the assistant director and armorer at the center of the investigation into the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Serge Svetnoy filed his complaint Wednesday in Los Angeles after previously writing on Facebook that he was close personal friends with Hutchins and held her in his arms Oct. 21 as she lay dying on the set of the ill-fated western movie that was filming at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“I still cannot believe she is no longer with us,” Svetnoy said of Hutchins at a press conference announcing the legal action. “What a terrible tragedy and injustice when a person loses her life on a film set while making art.”
The new 25-page lawsuit claims Baldwin, a starring actor in the movie as well as a producer, should be on the hook for real and punitive damages — along with rookie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, assistant director Dave Halls, producers, and others — because he’s the one who ultimately pulled the trigger. It claims Baldwin had a “duty” to “double check” the Colt revolver for live ammunition even though it was handed to him by Halls after the assistant director reportedly declared it was a “cold gun,” meaning not loaded with live rounds.
“Taking a gun and assuming it’s safe and pulling the trigger is a breach of that duty,” Svetnoy’s lawyer Gary Dordick tells Rolling Stone. “So, Alec Baldwin is not treated any better or any worse, but he’s held to the basic standard of care of a reasonable person in those circumstances.”
Svetnoy’s complaint also faults Gutierrez-Reed for accepting the role of “sole armorer” on the gun-heavy production when it should have been clear the movie “required multiple assistant armorers to safely manage the firearm needs” with “an industry-standard degree of care.” It says she negligently allowed the .45 Colt revolver loaded with at least one live bullet to be “released” to Halls, and it claims Halls failed to properly inspect the weapon before shouting “cold gun.”
In his comments Wednesday, Svetnoy was adamant he blames Rust’s producers more than any “one person,” saying their decisions to “save” money by placing inexperienced crew members at the head of understaffed departments put lives at risk.
“I think it is important to give younger and less qualified people an opportunity to work on film sets, but there must always be more experienced people behind them to teach, avoid mistakes, and prevent tragedies,” Svetnoy told reporters.
“Because the use of guns and live ammunition in motion pictures amounts to an inherently dangerous activity, the producers of Rust had a duty to hire persons trained and experienced in carefully overseeing the use of firearms and ammunition in the filming of the motion picture, including but not limited to a sufficient number or trained and experienced armorers to meet the needs of the production,” his lawsuit states.
“Each of the producer defendants knew, or certainly should have known, that injury or death was substantially certain to occur if the armorer and prop manager they hired to oversee and manage the firearms and ammunition did not or could not properly and safely discharge their duties and responsibilities per industry standards,” it says.
While Svetnoy wasn’t physically injured when Baldwin fired the prop gun loaded with live ammo, he was close enough that “discharge materials from the blast struck [him] directly,” the lawsuit states.
“This was so loud, this sound. So loud. I never heard that sound on a movie set [before]. That was my first impression, ‘What’s so loud?’” Svetnoy said Wednesday, describing the gunshot.
“What happened next will haunt him forever,” the lawsuit claims. Svetnoy turned away from the explosion, “stunned and shaken,” and noticed Hutchins on the ground of the small wooden church. As “Baldwin yelled repeatedly, ‘What happened?’ [Svetnoy] knelt down to check on Ms. Hutchins, still not sure what had just happened,” the lawsuit states.
He describes the next half-hour as “the longest” of his life. “He tried to aid and comfort Ms. Hutchins, watching helplessly as her consciousness faded inexorably away,” the lawsuit says.
“I was so concentrated, and I tried to save her life,” Svetnoy told reporters Wednesday. “I’m just holding [her].”
The fatal shooting is under investigation by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. In a new statement sent to Rolling Stone, Gutierrez-Reed’s criminal defense lawyer said his client met with investigators again this week for another “full interview.” He repeated the assertion his client was the victim of “sabotage.”
“We are asking for a full and complete investigation of all of the facts, including the live rounds themselves, how they ended up in the ‘dummies’ box, and who put them in there. We are convinced that this was sabotage and Hannah is being framed,” lawyer Jason Bowles said in the new statement.
“We believe that the scene was tampered with as well before the police arrived,” he continued. “The truth finding process demands that the District Attorney and FBI run down all of the evidence, including the nature of those live rounds.”
Dordick scoffed at that assertion Wednesday. “The suggesting by Ms. Gutierrez-Reed that someone put a live bullet in there intending him to point it and pull the trigger, meaning somebody sabotaged it to commit a murder, to me that sounds unbelievable, completely unbelievable.”