The release by police this week of footage of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dying on set last year after being fatally shot by Alec Baldwin has lawyers for the Hutchins family fuming.
“We demand that your office respect Matthew, Halyna, and Andros Hutchins’ constitutional rights of dignity, privacy, respect, and fairness going forward,” attorney Brian Panish wrote in a scathing letter sent earlier this week to Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza. “We also demand that your office take down the video footage of Halyna Hutchins dying on the church floor,” the LA-based lawyer adds.
“While the damage of publishing that video is irreparable, taking down the video will end your office’s complicity in causing further harm,” Panish went on to say of the April 25 information release in his letter, sent Wednesday, and which Deadline obtained from a source familiar with the matter.
The Santa Fe Sheriff’s office did not respond to request for comment on the two-page correspondence from the Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP partner.
Mendoza told Today this week his office was reacting to “a public records request” when they earlier this week released a bevy of files, videos, cell phone communications, interviews, court documents and more related to its investigation of the killing of Hutchins and the injuring of Rust director Joel Souza on October 21, 2021 in the church location at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe.
As the Hutchins estate pursues a February 15-filed wrongful death suit against Baldwin, other Rust producers and crew members, the off-loading of the material from the ongoing probe surprised many. Even with all that was made public, the Sheriff’s office said this week that it is still awaiting “FBI firearm and ballistic forensics along with DNA and latent fingerprint analysis, Office of the New Mexico Medical Examiner findings report and the analysis of Mr. Alec Baldwin’s phone data extracted by Suffolk County Sheriff’s investigators” as a part of their investigation.
“Once these investigative components are provided to the sheriff’s office we will be able to complete the investigation to forward it to the Santa Fe District Attorney for review,” said the sheriff in his statement when the material put out in the public sphere.
However, in Panish’s opinion, at this point, “the damage” already done by the Sheriff’s office is “irreparable.”
Part of that damage is constitutional and part is to Hutchins’ young son, as the lawyer bluntly said in the letter:
Your office trampled on the constitutional rights of the Hutchins. Your office promised to allow Mr. Hutchins to review the materials being publicly released in advance of their dissemination to the press. Without any discussion, your office unilaterally determined that Mr. Hutchins would be given access to the materials to review early in the morning on Monday, April 25 before being released to the public later in the afternoon giving him less than a business day to review the materials. This was a wholly inadequate amount of time given the sheer volume of material and failed to give the Hutchins the “dignity and privacy” the New Mexico constitution affords them including the right to request that discretion be exercised, and sensitive material be redacted.
But even this arrangement was violated when your office released the materials to the public before releasing the materials to Mr. Hutchins. The first time Mr. Hutchins saw the disturbing and unsettling video footage of his dying wife lying on the church floor was on Radar Online, an internet website. A greater respect for the Hutchins constitutional rights would not have allowed this video footage to be released. The potential consequences are disturbing given how information is misused on social media. We fear, for example, that this shocking footage of Andros’ mother dying may be material used by bullies to emotionally abuse him in the future.
With several lawsuits already filed against Baldwin and the Rust production, the conflict between the cinematographer’s family and the police almost directly follows a damning New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau report on April 20. As a part of that report, Rust Movie Productions LLC and its management were hit with a maximum $136,793 fine by OSHA for its “willful and serious” violation of workplace safety procedures during the filming of the indie Western.
Despite being nearly six months since the shooting, no one has been arrested or charged for what happened on the Rust set last year.
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