OSHA Investigator: ‘Rust’ Armorer Wasn’t Given Enough Time to Check Rounds

An OSHA investigator testified on Tuesday that “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed was not given enough time to make sure that there were no live rounds on set.

Lorenzo Montoya was the first witness called by the defense in the involuntary manslaughter trial underway in Santa Fe, N.M. Gutierrez Reed is accused of causing the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by loading a live round into Alec Baldwin’s gun.

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On the stand, Montoya faulted the Rust management team for safety lapses that led to the accidental shooting. Those included directing Gutierrez Reed to focus on other tasks, taking her away from her responsibilities as the film’s armorer, he said.

“We came to the conclusion that she was not afforded time to conduct her duties to the best of her diligence,” Montoya said. “The employer is asking an individual to perform multiple safety-related functions for them, while also telling them that they’re spending too much time engaging in those safety-related functions.”

Montoya also said that Gutierrez Reed “effectively had no authority” to make decisions about gun safety training on set, a violation of industry safety rules.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles has argued that Gutierrez Reed has been scapegoated for errors committed by Baldwin and others in the production team. The defense has leaned heavily on the conclusions of the New Mexico division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which did not fault Gutierrez Reed in its report.

Before the trial, prosecutors had sought to prevent the OSHA report from being introduced, arguing that its purpose was to identify management failures, not to assign criminal responsibility to individual employees.

The agency levied a $136,793 penalty, which the company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, was able to get reduced to $100,000 in a settlement. In disputing the penalty, the company argued that Gutierrez Reed was given adequate time to do her job.

Montoya also testified that the production had no policies in place to prevent dummy ammunition — used to make weapons look authentic in close-up shots — from being contaminated with live bullets.

Montoya faulted managers for failing to follow up on complaints about two accidental discharges of blank rounds. He said he was “not able to identify any particular standout reason why an employee would be to blame,” and said the ultimate fault for the tragedy lay with management.

“They adopted firearms safety policies, but they totally failed to enforce them, train their employees on them, practice them, reference them,” Montoya said. “Nothing.”

On cross-examination, prosecutor Jason Lewis pointed out that OSHA cannot impose fines on employees, only on companies. Lewis also noted that the OSHA investigators did not hire expert armorers, or have access to the full Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigation.

The prosecution has also argued that Gutierrez Reed had hours of free time on the morning that Hutchins was shot. Production got off to a late start that day because the camera crew had quit the previous evening.

The state’s expert armorer, Bryan Carpenter, testified earlier in the trial that the armorer is responsible for making sure that guns are used safely on set.

“The people on the movie set depended on her guidance to keep anyone from being harmed,” Carpenter said.

As Santa Fe County Deputy Levi Abeyta (left) watches, Expert witness for the defense Frank Koucky III demonstrates how to uncock a gun like the one used in the Rust shooting during testimony in  Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s  involuntary manslaughter trial at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.
As Santa Fe County Deputy Levi Abeyta (left) watches, expert witness for the defense Frank Koucky III demonstrates how to uncock a gun like the one used in the Rust shooting during testimony in Hannah Gutierrez Reed’s involuntary manslaughter trial at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

In the afternoon, the defense called its own firearms expert, Frank Louis Blair Koucky III, to explain the mechanics of antique guns. Koucky talked at length about his history with guns, including engaging in 18th-century military reenactments and hunting Russian wild boar in California.

He was scolded by the judge when he pulled a couple of pistols out of his bag to show the jury and pointed one up at the ceiling.

“First of all, everybody’s nervous, because you have not demonstrated to us that they’re unloaded,” Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said. “So before you start showing us the weapons, make sure they’re unloaded, including that one that you just touched.”

He then held up the pistol to show that it was clear, pointing it in the general direction of the judge’s bench. The bailiff reached over the witness stand to push the barrel toward the floor.

Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Wednesday, after the defense presents its final testimony.

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