Rust shooting: Criminal charges not ruled out after Alec Baldwin's shock interview, actor's claims questioned

The United States prosecutor overseeing the Rust shooting investigation is not ruling out criminal charges and is exploring "various legal theories at this time".

According to US media, the statement was in response to claims by actor Alec Baldwin - who was holding the prop weapon that misfired killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the Rust movie set in October - that he didn't expect to face charges over the ordeal.

"I've been told by people in the know... that it is highly unlikely I would be charged with anything criminally," Baldwin said in an ABC News interview this week.

Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney in New Mexico leading the prosecution team, has now replied, in what Deadline is calling a "pretty direct response" to Baldwin's claims. 

She is reported to have said that "certain individuals may be criminally culpable for his/her actions and/or inactions on the set of Rust" and she was planning to "exercise my prosecutorial discretion to its fullest, including filing charges that are supported by probable cause". 

The lawyer is reported as adding that her team is "exploring various legal theories at this time".

"Everyone involved in the handling and use of firearms on the set had a duty to behave in a manner such that the safety of others was protected, and it appears that certain actions and inactions contributed to this outcome."

In his interview, Baldwin said he didn't think it necessary to check the gun himself. 

"When that person who was charged with that job, handed me the weapon, I trusted them... In the 40 years I've been in this business all the way up until that day, I've never had a problem."

Deadline reports that local law enforcement is frustrated Baldwin is speaking to media. One source reportedly said the police department felt "betrayed" by the actor given the "consideration" he was afforded after the tragedy.

"Baldwin is testing the department's patience and becoming a distraction to the ongoing investigation," another source of Deadline's said.

In his ABC interview, Baldwin also claimed to have never pulled the trigger on the weapon, saying he would "never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger". He said he had no idea how a live round got into the weapon, but conceded "someone" put it there.

Assistant director Dave Halls' lawyer backed up Baldwin's story, saying Halls never saw the actor place his finger on the trigger.

Michigan-based firearms expert Steven Howard told Reuters it is possible for a weapon to misfire if the trigger or hammer suffers a "very, very rare" major breakage or malfunction. But he said Baldwin may also just not remember pulling the trigger due to the trauma.

"But if he insists that he did not pull the trigger, I find that very hard to believe. If someone puts me in the room with that gun for two minutes, I'll tell if he's a liar or not."

Variety reports camera operator Lane Luper as saying in a statement on Friday that "guns don't just go off" and that there were multiple steps that must have happened before the bullet exited the chamber. It was not a "magic self-firing weapon", the crew member said. 

"Alec Baldwin, David Halls, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and the producers of Rust are attempting to avoid personal responsibility through unfounded claims and scripted narrative," Luper said. 

The camera operator was one of a group of crew members to walk off the set shortly before the shooting.

Baldwin claimed to ABC to be unaware of safety concerns on the set of the film, which he is a producer on. Two crew members have filed lawsuits against Baldwin and other producers, accusing them of lax protocols. 

It comes as investigators try to track down the source of the live bullet. 

On Wednesday, a search warrant was issued for a prop house in Albuquerque, New Mexico which, according to the statement, supplied Rust with guns, dummy rounds and blanks. The owner, Seth Kenney, has previously worked with Thell Reed, the father of Rust's armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.

The affidavit says that during production on another film in August and September, Kenney asked Reed to bring live ammunition to a training session "in case they ran out of what was supplied". Reed told investigators he did so and that Kenney afterwards took the ammunition despite him trying to get it back. According to Reed, Kenney told him to "write it off".

The warrant says Reed told investigators ammunition he once possessed "may match the ammunition found on the set of Rust".

Kenney's lawyer, however, denies ever providing live ammunition to Rust and that parts of the search warrant affidavit "includes material misstatements of fact".

Gutierrez-Reed, the Rust armourer, has said she has no idea where the live rounds came from.