MON: AG Torrez seeks to codify abortion rights and nullify bans, + More
New Mexico AG seeks to codify abortion rights, nullify bans - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Morgan Lee Associated Press
New Mexico's top prosecutor on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to nullify abortion ordinances that local elected officials have passed in recent months in conservative reaches of the Democratic-led state.
Attorney General Raúl Torrez urged the high court to intervene against ordinances that he said overstep local government authority to regulate health care access, and violate the New Mexico Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process.
At a news conference, Torrez said the ordinances are significant even in regions with no abortion clinics because they threaten to restrict access to reproductive health care in people's homes. More than half of U.S. abortions are now done with pills rather than surgery.
"This is not Texas. Our State Constitution does not allow cities, counties or private citizens to restrict women's reproductive rights," Torrez said in a statement. "Today's action sends a strong message that my office will use every available tool to swiftly and decisively uphold individual liberties against unconstitutional overreach."
It's not clear how soon the New Mexico Supreme Court could decide to take up the issue. Torrez said he hopes his petition to the Supreme Court will inspire a quick response within weeks or months — avoiding the potentially yearslong process of pursuing a civil lawsuit.
The filing targets Roosevelt and Lea counties, and the cities of Hobbs and Clovis — all on the eastern edge of the state near Texas, where most abortion procedures are banned.
Clovis and Lea County officials declined to comment Monday, citing pending litigation. Officials could not immediately be reached in Hobbs and Roosevelt County.
Prosecutors say that abortion ordinances approved in November by an all-male city council in Hobbs, and in early January by Roosevelt County define "abortion clinic" in broad terms, encompassing any building or facility beyond a hospital where an abortion procedure is performed — or where an abortion-inducing drug is dispensed, distributed or ingested.
Torrez warned that Roosevelt County's abortion ordinance in particular gives private citizens the power to sue anyone they suspect of violated the ordinance and pursue damages of up to $100,000 per violation.
"The threat of ruinous liability under the law operates to chill New Mexicans from exercising their right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy and health care providers from providing lawful medical services," the attorney general wrote in his petition to the state Supreme Court.
In 2021, the Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures, ensuring access to abortion in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she wants to see legislation that would codify the right to an abortion across the state.
Lawmakers have already proposed measures that would prohibit local governments from placing restrictions on abortion access — and call for putting in place protections for doctors and patients.
During her reelection campaign last year, Lujan Grisham cast herself as a staunch defender of access to abortion procedures. She has called a local abortion ordinance an "affront to the rights and personal autonomy of every woman in Hobbs and southeastern New Mexico."
In June, the governor signed an executive order that prohibited cooperation with other states that might interfere with abortion access in New Mexico, declining to carry out any future arrest warrants from other states related to anti-abortion provisions. The order also prohibited most New Mexico state employees from assisting other states in investigating or seeking sanctions against local abortion providers.
She followed up in August with another executive order that pledged $10 million to build a clinic that would provide abortion and other pregnancy care in southern New Mexico.
The Clovis ordinance, approved in early January, also seeks to keep new clinics from opening. It's facing a petition challenge, but Mayor Mike Morris said he thinks voters there would overwhelmingly vote to keep the ordinance if it were on the ballot.
Days later, Roosevelt County followed with its own ordinance prohibiting the operation of clinics, restricting the delivery of abortion-related supplies and medicines.
In the court filing, Torrez argues that the New Mexico Constitution provides broader protection of individual rights than the U.S. Constitution — and that the local ordinances violate New Mexicans' inherent rights, liberty and privacy.
He also argued that the action by the city and county commissioners amount to overreach by attempting to legislate on a matter of statewide importance for which the Legislature has preempted local regulation.
The attorney general asked the Supreme Court to suspend the local abortion ordinances while deliberations are underway.
New Mexico candidate charged in shooting case denied bond - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
A political newcomer who lost his bid for the New Mexico statehouse and is accused of orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic officials will remain in custody pending trial after a judge agreed Monday that he is a danger to the community.
Solomon Peña, 39, is charged with multiple counts that include shooting at a dwelling and possession of a firearm by a felon. Detectives identified him as their key suspect using a combination of cellphone and vehicle records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected at the lawmakers' homes.
No one was hurt in the shootings, but the case has reignited the debate over whether lawmakers should make it harder for people accused of violent crimes to make bail, as New Mexico struggles with persistent violent crime.
Peña's defense attorney raised questions about the credibility of a confidential witness that shared information with authorities, saying some of the statements used in a criminal complaint were contradictory. She also argued that her client's criminal history did not involve any violent convictions or crimes involving firearms and that he has not been in trouble with the law since his release from prison in 2016, other than two traffic citations.
Prosecutors outlined Peña's time in prison and described him as the "ringleader" of a group that he assembled to shoot at people's homes, saying ballistics testing determined that a firearm found in the trunk of a car registered to Peña was linked to at least one shooting. Another man was found driving that car and arrested on an unrelated warrant.
State District Judge David Murphy agreed with prosecutors, pointing to the nature and circumstances of the allegations and that elected officials appeared to be the targets of at least intimidation or at worst harm.
Murphy acknowledged that Peña's attorney was able to articulate a number of inconsistencies that troubled the court, but that "the weight of evidence against this defendant is strong."
"I find the state has met its burden in proving that there are no release conditions that would reasonably protect the safety of others," he said.
Authorities arrested Peña on Jan. 9, accusing him of paying for a father and son and two other unidentified men to shoot at the officials' homes between early December and early January. The shootings followed his unsuccessful Republican bid for a district long been considered a Democratic stronghold. He claimed the election was rigged.
Police also are investigating donations made to Peña's campaign, including a contribution by one of the men accused of conspiring with him and the man's mother. Detectives said they learned through witness interviews that Peña allegedly arranged with an unknown source to have that source funnel donations to his campaign in the names of other people.
Investigators said they are trying to determine whether the money was generated from drug trafficking.
Court records show that Peña was incarcerated for several years after being arrested in 2007 in connection with what authorities described as a smash-and-grab burglary scheme that targeted retail stores. His voting rights were restored after he completed probation in 2021.
Defense attorney Roberta Yurcic said the past few years showed that Peña was turning his life around, that he earned a bachelor's degree, purchased a home and had job in roofing sales.
She pointed to the criminal complaint and argued that her client, who was arrested at his home, had no firearms and that no DNA or fingerprint evidence has been presented to link him to the weapons seized by authorities through the course of their investigation.
Prosecutors and a police detective confirmed during the hearing that ballistics testing continues on the weapons and casings found at the shooting scenes and in stolen cars thought to be used for the crimes.
Yurcic also argued that prosecutors have not presented any text messages or other evidence besides a confidential witness that her client allegedly asked for the other men to shoot up the officials' homes.
Deputy District Attorney Natalie Lyon told the court that Peña needed to remain in custody.
"With access to a phone, he is able to contact individuals, he is able to convince other individuals to engage in very violent and dangerous acts," she said. "A GPS monitor isn't going to keep him from accessing a phone, pretrial services can't keep him from accessing a phone, even putting him on house arrest isn't going to keep him from accessing a phone."
An assessment that considers his criminal history and several other factors provided recommendations for what level of pretrial supervision Peña should have if released, but Murphy agreed with prosecutors to keep him locked up.
The risk assessment tool has been the focus of much criticism as the public has pushed for Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to consider changes amid Albuquerque's ongoing struggle to combat persistent violent crime and what many perceive as a "revolving door" in the criminal justice system.
Top court administrators in New Mexico have defended the tool, developed by the Arnold Foundation and used in dozens of jurisdictions around the U.S.
Albuquerque DA appoints special prosecutor in 2020 monument shooting - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
The Bernalillo County District Attorney has appointed a special prosecutor to handle the criminal case against a former Albuquerque City Council candidate who shot a protester in June 2020 at the statue depicting Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate called La Jornada at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque’s Old Town neighborhood.
Steven Ray Baca, 34, is accused of attacking several protesters and shooting Scott Williams four times in the torso with a .40-caliber handgun. He is charged with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm for shooting Williams, two counts of battery on two other protesters, and unlawful carrying of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty in August 2020.
His trial begins June 20 and is set to last approximately eight days, according to Second Judicial District Court Judge Brett R. Loveless.
On Jan. 13, attorney David Foster took the oath to serve as special prosecutor in the criminal case, according to court records. Second Judicial District Attorney Sam Bregman appointed Foster in a court filing five days later.
Foster is a former prosecutor who has handled criminal cases in New Mexico and New York, according to his website, and has offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Whenever a district attorney in New Mexico cannot prosecute a case “for ethical reasons or other good cause,” state law allows them to appoint a special assistant district attorney to act as a special prosecutor in one case. In his role in the case, Foster will have all of the authority and duties Bregman would normally have.
Spokesperson Nancy Laflin said in a written statement on Monday that Bregman chose to ask for an outside prosecutor because the DA’s office has a “high volume of cases.”
“There are a number of attorneys in the community who are working with us to prosecute cases,” Laflin said. “That’s what happened here.”
A request for comment sent to Foster on Monday was not returned.
Williams, through his attorney Laura Schauer Ives, declined to comment.
Diego Esquibel, one of the two attorneys representing Baca, said Foster’s appointment doesn’t change anything about the case.
“It’s not unusual, it’s a pretty common practice on some of these cases,” Esquibel said in an interview on Monday. “It will be nice to actually get a fresh set of eyes looking at the case. We felt that the case got politicized pretty early on, and I think that that’s kind of driven the way that the case has been handled.”
Loveless estimates a trial to last eight days and has scheduled it to begin June 20, according to court records. He has required all parties to hand over scientific evidence by Feb. 17, interview all witnesses before April 5, and hold any evidence hearings by May 15.
FORMER DA ANTICIPATED SELF-DEFENSE CLAIM
The shooting happened during deep social unrest in 2020: the George Floyd protests, criticism of police violence, and the destruction or removal of more than 160 monuments to the Confederacy — including the removal of the Spanish colonial statues in Alcalde, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.
Prosecutors in August 2020 wrote that they anticipate Baca’s attorneys will claim he acted in self defense. But former Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez previously said his office will argue that because Baca was the first aggressor, he will not be able to make a claim of self defense, and that Williams acted in response to Baca’s “violent provocation.”
In the minutes leading up to the shooting, video shows Baca push a woman from behind, causing her to fall to the ground and injure her legs. It also shows him moments later trying to push past another woman to get near the statue, and while she had her arms out and her back turned, he grabbed her shoulder and slammed her into a concrete sidewalk where she hit her head.
A group of protesters including Williams chased Baca away from the monument, according to court records. As Baca ran away, he sprayed them with mace. One protester attempted to hit Baca in the head with a longboard, but dropped it. Williams attempted to use the longboard to knock the gun out of Baca’s hands, but Baca shot Williams.
After the shooting, video shows six members of a right-wing militia called the New Mexico Civil Guard armed with rifles surrounding Baca. Other members of the militia were also rendering aid to Williams’ gunshot wounds.
Last year, Torrez won a civil case that tried to dissolve the militia group, which had mostly broken up and dormant since the 2020 election. The group did not have legal representation and was not responding to court deadlines. Documents in that case revealed that Baca acted alone and was not part of the group during the Oñate shooting.
District Court Judge David A. Murphy in September recused himself from presiding over the case, which was reassigned to Loveless.
Mexican gray wolf that roamed beyond recovery area captured - Associated Press
A female Mexican gray wolf that roamed beyond the endangered species' recovery area into the more northern reaches of New Mexico has been captured, authorities said Monday.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish used a helicopter to locate and capture the wolf Sunday.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Albuquerque said the wolf will be held temporarily in captivity and paired with a male Mexican wolf "for transfer as a pair to Mexico later this year."
They said the female wolf first moved north of the arbitrary Interstate 40 boundary in New Mexico on Jan. 2 and then showed no signs of returning to the experimental population recovery area.
Authorities said last week that a map showed the wolf near Taos and south of the Colorado border.
"As it is breeding season and there are no other known wolves in the area, there was a high likelihood of a negative interaction or breeding with domestic dogs," Fish and Wildlife Service officials said in a statement.
The wolf, from the Rocky Prairie Pack of Arizona, was named "Asha" by school children.
Her roaming reignited a debate over whether the predators should be confined to a certain stretch of the southwestern U.S. as wildlife managers work to boost the population.
Environmentalists have been fighting in federal court to overturn a requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Service capture wolves that roam north of I-40.
Last week, conservation advocates asked authorities to allow the wolf to continue on her journey.
"This wolf's name, Asha, means 'hope' in Sanskrit," said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. "What could be more fitting for a wolf exploring and surviving the big wide world on her own as wolves historically once did throughout the southwest?"
Collared wolves have trekked north of I-40 only a handful of times since 2015 when the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area was established, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge of the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying the killing of livestock by wolves remains a threat to their livelihood despite efforts by wildlife managers to scare the wolves away and reimburse some of the losses.
The Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. According to the most recent survey released in early 2022, there were at least 196 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. It marked the sixth straight year the population had increased.
Bird deaths over New Mexico possibly due to climate change - Associated Press
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers are studying a 2020 incident in which thousands of migratory birds dropped dead over New Mexico, possibly due to climate change.
Hundreds of millions of birds fly south in the winter and north in the summer, but recent studies by NASA and others show climate change may be interfering with that annual cycle and those disruptions can ripple through entire ecosystems.
Jeanne Fair, a Los Alamos National Lab scientist and one of the researchers studying the September 2020 incident, said the birds experienced three different extreme weather events.
"It was literally within a few days that we saw a mass mortality of birds," Fair told Albuquerque TV station KOB. "We had had some extreme high temperatures in Colorado and New Mexico, and then we had a cold front come in that that was sort of extreme cold event. At the same time, we had large catastrophic forest fires in the region, and so it was very, very smoky as well."
Fair said all of those stressors pushed the typically resilient birds to their limit and researchers believe it could happen again.
"Something new is happening. Climate change is increasing the frequency and the severity of these weather-related events," said Tim Wright, a New Mexico State University professor.
Wright is spearheading a new partnership between New Mexico State University and Los Alamos National Lab with students trained in a relatively new field of research — disaster ecology.
"It is one in which we try to understand how these disasters are occurring, what leads to these disasters, and also how we might be able to mitigate them and lessen their impact in the future," Wright told KOB.
Students will revisit the 2020 mass bird die-off to better understand how climate change affects migratory birds and that research could one day help predict future weather disasters, according to Wright.
"That's why migratory birds are particularly important," Fair said. "They're a great indicator of, of stresses from whether where they've been to where they're going, and so they're the ones that are connecting us globally."
New Mexico’s Superintendent of Insurance retires — By Nash Jones, KUNM
New Mexico’s superintendent of insurance has retired and his deputy has been appointed to fill the role on an interim basis. She’ll be the first woman and first Latina in the position, according to the department.
Russell Toal has led the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance — the state’s insurance regulation agency — since 2019, overseeing the department throughout the pandemic and last year’s historically destructive fire season — both of which had insurance repercussions for health and property.
OSI said in a statement that Toal’s retirement was effective Friday and that he’ll quickly move on to a position as a contractor for the Legislative Finance Committee at the Roundhouse focused on insurance matters.
Former Deputy Jennifer Catechis has been appointed Interim Superintendent of Insurance.
She has 17 years of management experience, including as the state’s Chief Examiner of Insurance, according to OSI.
She says she’s proud of the work the agency did throughout the pandemic to provide “affordable, accessible and equitable insurance” to New Mexicans and plans to prioritize fire victims in need of home insurance as she takes the top job in the department.
New Mexico student pleads guilty for role in fatal shooting - Associated Press
A University of New Mexico freshman pleaded guilty to two counts stemming from his role in a deadly campus shooting that involved a basketball player from a rival school.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Jonathan Smith, 19, agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and tampering with evidence. The agreement was sealed and unavailable for public inspection.
He was accused of participating in a plan to lure New Mexico State University basketball player Mike Peake hours before a scheduled basketball game between the two schools in November with the intent to ambush him.
Authorities said the confrontation led to a shootout between Peake and 19-year-old UNM student Brandon Travis, who died at the scene.
Prosecutors said Smith, who was unarmed that night, faces up to three years of incarceration. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.
Authorities believe Travis conspired with Smith and at least two others — including a 17-year-old — to lure Peake to campus and assault him. They have said Travis was seeking revenge for being beaten up in a fight involving Peake and other men at an Oct. 15 football game in Las Cruces between the two schools.
New Mexico State Police have said that the gun Peake possessed was legal, but the gun used by Travis was stolen in June out of a man's truck in Clovis.
Peake, 21, suffered a leg wound in the shootout that has required several surgeries. He has not been charged in Travis' death, but was suspended indefinitely from the Aggies' basketball team.
Prosecutors said cases are still pending with two other suspects.
Bitter cold continues in Southwest into this week, NV to NM - By Scott Sonner Associated Press
Unusually cold weather is expected to continue across most of the Southwest into next week from the Sierra to New Mexico, the National Weather Service said late Saturday.
Lows well-below zero Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) are forecast in parts of Nevada and Arizona, and more snow is expected in some areas around Flagstaff that have already received their most January snow in four decades, the service said.
Wind gusts could top 100 mph (160 kph) over Sierra ridge tops around Lake Tahoe Sunday as the front blows in with wind chills as low as minus 25 (-32 C).
Temperatures are expected to remain 10 to 20 degrees below normal across most of the region into Tuesday.
"Confidence is growing for a winter storm system to impact a large section of central and eastern New Mexico Monday through Tuesday morning," the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Saturday.
Sub-zero lows early Saturday — minus 17 (-27 C) at Mormon Lake south of Flagstaff, Arizona — stretched as far north as Ely, Nevada on the Utah line where it was minus 9 (-23 C).
Grand Canyon Airport in Arizona reported 14 below (-26 C), Williams minus 4 (-20 C) and Flagstaff Airport minus 3 (-19.5 C). The low dipped to minus 5 (-20.5 C) in Elko, Nevada, the teens in Reno, 38 (3 C) in Las Vegas and 36 (2 C) in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Freeze warnings were in place for much of south-central Arizona south of Phoenix, including Paz County where a hard-freeze was possible early Sunday.
A couple inches of snow was expected in the mountains around Flagstaff, where the coldest weather system of 2023 was expected to move across Sunday night into Monday, the service said.
With 10 days remaining in the month, Flagstaff already has received 57.9 inches (147 centimeters) of snow — the most January snow since 1980 and fourth most ever in records that date to 1898.
The National Weather Service said on Saturday "third place is within reach" — 59.4 inches (151 cm) in 1979. The most was 104.8 inches (266 cm) in 1949.
In Nevada, lows were expected to remain in the low 30s (near zero C) in Las Vegas into the middle of the week, with single digits both below and above zero in Elko and lower teens in Reno.
Navajo Nation rescinds mask mandate on vast reservation - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press
The Navajo Nation has rescinded a mask mandate that's been in effect since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced Friday, fulfilling a pledge that new tribal President Buu Nygren made while campaigning for the office.
The mandate was one of the longest-standing anywhere in the U.S. and applied broadly to businesses, government offices and tourist destinations on the vast reservation, which extends into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The tribe at one point had one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country and among the strictest measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Nygren and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Otto Tso, who temporarily is overseeing the tribe's legislative branch, jointly announced the lifting of the mask mandate on social media Friday evening.
They cited figures from tribal health officials that show there's a low risk of transmission, based on the seven-day incidence rate of 51 cases per 100,000 people.
The number of positive cases overall during the pandemic still remains higher in the Navajo region than any other Indian Health Service region, except for Oklahoma. The Navajo Nation has tallied more than 2,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.
Nygren and Tso urged people to continue taking precautionary measures. Masks will still be required in schools, nursing homes and health care facilities, according to the latest public health order.
"It's time for the Navajo people to get back to work," Nygren said in a statement. "It's time for them to be able to open their chapter houses to conduct local business and to receive services they are asking for and deserve."
The news spread fast and comments poured in on social media. Some praised the action and others were sharply critical, including former President Jonathan Nez, who had sought a second term, and whose tenure was dominated by the response to the pandemic.
Nez credited the mask mandate for the lower coronavirus rates and said he's praying that COVID-19, RSV and flu cases don't rise.
"But the new administration needs to be held accountable if we see a surge in new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths," he wrote on Twitter.
Enforcement of the mask mandate had been mixed on the 27,000 square-mile (69,000 square-kilometer) Navajo Nation. Most people wore masks at the inauguration for newly elected officials earlier this month, but neither Nygren or Nez kept one on the entire time.
Brian Parrish, who oversees the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, said signage would be changed at the tribe's four casinos to indicate that masks now are optional. He said he suspected a large percentage of patrons haven't returned because of the mask mandate but might now.
"We're ready to take this next step toward getting back to normal," he said late Friday.
Priscilla Todecheeny, who works at the Red Rock Trading Post in Red Valley, Arizona, said signs regarding masks came down once the reservation reopened to visitors, and no one was kept from entering. But she's concerned about employees who had been wearing masks.
"I think it should still be in stores for our safety because we don't know if another person might have the virus or is carrying it," she said Friday.
Diana DeChilly, who is Navajo, was in the hospital Friday with the flu when she heard masks no longer were required on the reservation. She said she'd rather keep hers on to prevent the spread of any illness, even when she's discharged.
"I'm willing to bet a majority of Navajo people are going to keep wearing their masks, mandate or no mandate," she said.
As Baldwin faces charges, gun safety on sets 'gets louder' - By Andrew Dalton Ap Entertainment Writer
Film production and firearms experts say movie sets probably changed permanently when cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on the remote New Mexico set of the Western "Rust" 14 months ago, leading to the announcement from prosecutors Thursday that Alec Baldwin and the film's weapons supervisor will be charged with involuntary manslaughter later this month.
"The gun safety experience on set has become more vocal, it's a lot louder," said Joey Dillon, an armorer who has overseen the use of firearms on television shows including "Westworld" and movies including "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs." "I make it a lot louder myself."
Baldwin was pointing the gun with a live round inside that killed Hutchins as they set up a shot for an upcoming scene. People at several levels of production are determined to ensure it never happens again.
That has meant the increasing use of digital and other technology that could make gunfire of any kind obsolete. It has also meant more simple things, like shouting when using the same safety protocols long in place to make clear to everyone when a gun is present and what its status is.
Actors and others are more interested when the gun is handed over.
"Now people want to check because people are a little a little gun shy," Dillon said. "I'll stop the whole process just to show them so that they feel comfortable with it."
While checking a gun themselves may be in the best interest of actors, how much responsibility they bear for doing so remains in dispute, and will be a central question for jurors should Baldwin's case go to trial.
His union, and his lawyer, say this onus can't be placed on performers.
"An actor's job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert," the Screen Actors Guild said in a statement Thursday. "Firearms are provided for their use under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm."
Baldwin's defense attorney Luke Nikas said in a statement that he did his job by relying "on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds."
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies disagrees.
"It is incumbent on anybody that holds a gun to make sure that it is either not loaded or to know what it is loaded with," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "And certainly then to not point it at someone and pull the trigger. That's where his actor liability, we think, comes in."
She also emphasized that while Baldwin is to be charged as the man with the gun in his hand, his role as a producer, and at least partial responsibility for the lax conditions that led to his having a loaded gun, were a consideration in deciding to bring the charges.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who oversaw the film's firearms, will also be charged with involuntary manslaughter, the district attorney said.
Her attorney Jason Bowles said in a statement that they would "bring the full truth to light and that she "will be exonerated of wrongdoing by a jury."
Technology may take the safety question out of actors' hands entirely.
Productions were already using digital effects to simulate the flash and bang of gunfire more often, but Hutchins' death has almost certainly sped the change along.
"There are a lot of bad ways that digital takes over, but this is a good way," said Spencer Parsons, an associate professor and head of production at Northwestern University in the School of Communication's department of Radio/Television/Film who has worked as a director and in other roles on any sets. "I'm not saying that there's no good reason to use real pyrotechnics, but in terms of basic safety and speed, this makes sense."
And when it comes to hardware, companies have been making increasingly convincing replicas, essentially enhanced BB guns with moving parts that behave like pistols but don't fire bullets. Muzzle flashes and sounds are added in post-production.
But, Parsons said, "there's not a lot of replicas for some of the antique stuff" used in Westerns and other period movies, which he specializes in.
Other solutions that have been sought for sets may be misguided, and may not help.
In the days immediately after the shooting, much media discussion surrounded the dangers of blank rounds in guns, based on the assumption that one of them killed Hutchins.
"From experience I knew it was more than that," Dillon said. "But the immediate reaction in the industry was to try to cancel the use of blanks altogether."
Dillon said dummy rounds, prop bullets used in scenes where characters are shown loading guns, are more likely to result in mistakes like what happened on "Rust," since they look like live ammunition and could be confused with them.
He said he found that "frustrating because that can accidentally impart to the crew that we've been ignorant" and previously kept them in unnecessary danger.
When investigators revealed it was actually a live round, the fear of blanks, which can certainly be very dangerous at very close range, remained.
Parsons said the fact that it was misguided to blame the fact that "Rust" was a small-budget independent production. He said the pace and length of large studio productions can put crews in positions where accidents of all kinds can become more likely.
"In some cases they can put people through even longer hours, and the need for speed is even greater," he said. "That can be very very dangerous. The need for speed on any set incentives behavior that's not always the best for safety."
Gutierrez-Reed's dual role as armorer and assistant props supervisor has also received negative attention.
But Dillon said the overlap of weapons and props is inevitable, and such dual roles happen often. The crew members playing those roles just need to be utterly clear when they're playing which.
"When the guns come out, that's all I'm worried about," he said, "and that's all I'm working on."
Lawmakers seek to bar insurrectionists from holding office - By Maysoon Khan Associated Press/Report For America
Democratic lawmakers in a handful of states are trying to send a message two years after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol: Those who engage in an attempted overthrow of the government shouldn't be allowed to run it.
New York, Connecticut and Virginia are among states where proposed legislation would prohibit anyone convicted of participating in an insurrection from holding public office or a position of public trust, such as becoming a police officer.
While the bills vary in scope, their aim is similar.
"If you've tried to take down our government through violent means, in no way should you be part of it," New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal said.
He is sponsoring a bill that would bar people convicted of engaging in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding civil office, meaning they would not be able to serve as a judge or member of the Legislature. Hoylman-Sigal said he introduced the bill this year because he saw more people who were involved in the riot in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, running for office last year.
He described the assault on the Capitol as "a real attack on the foundations of our free and fair democracy and the values which enable that to persist."
A Virginia lawmaker introduced a bill this month, on the second anniversary of the Capitol riot, that would prohibit anyone convicted of a felony related to an attempted insurrection or riot from serving in positions of public trust — including those involving policymaking, law enforcement, safety, education or health.
A Connecticut bill would prohibit people convicted of sedition, rebellion, insurrection or a felony related to one of those acts from running for or holding public office. Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, who introduced the measure, told The Associated Press that he wants the legislation eventually to bar them from holding state or municipal jobs.
The legislation in the states comes after the House Jan. 6 committee's final report, which found Donald Trump criminally engaged in a conspiracy to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election he lost and failed to take action to stop his supporters from attacking the Capitol.
The committee's recently concluded work may have provided another springboard for lawmakers to act and propose ways to hold people accountable, said Victoria Bassetti, a senior policy adviser at States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for fair elections.
Some Republicans say the legislation is unnecessary.
In New York, Republican Assemblyman Will Barclay, the minority leader, called the bill there a "political statement," saying it is "more political than it is a concern about public policy."
He said existing rules already apply to people in certain positions who are convicted of crimes and that those laws "should be sufficient."
The legislation is another example of how the Capitol riot has become a political Rorschach test in the country.
Many Republicans refuse to see the attempt to violently halt the presidential certification — which was based on lies that 2020 election was stolen — as an insurrection, while a strong majority of the party continues to believe that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. Even students are being taught different versions of the attack, depending on whether they live in more conservative or liberal parts of the nation.
The opposing realities came into sharp focus this month in Pennsylvania during a fraught exchange between two lawmakers.
In a committee hearing, Republican state Sen. Cris Dush slammed his gavel as he ruled Democratic state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti out of order after she described the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as "the site of an insurrection."
"Insurrection, nobody has been charged with that," Dush said. "There's not been a single charge against any of those people as insurrectionists. In this committee, we are not using that term."
Nearly 1,000 people have been charged in the Capitol riot with federal crimes, with about half of them pleading guilty to riot-related charges and more than three dozen convicted at trial. The charges range from misdemeanors for those accused of entering the Capitol illegally but not participating in violence to felony seditious conspiracy for far-right extremist group members accused of plotting to stop the transfer of presidential power.
In November, two leaders of the Oath Keepers extremist group were convicted of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors alleged was a weekslong plot to use force to keep Trump in office. Leaders of the Proud Boys and additional members of the Oath Keepers are currently standing trial on the sedition charge, which carries up to 20 years behind bars.
Weeks after the committee exchange, Cappelletti told The Associated Press that it's important to make sure people understand that the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection.
"These are factually correct things," she said. "That doesn't mean that we can't disagree politically about policy or other things, but we can acknowledge that that happened and start to figure out how we move forward to work together to build up that public trust again."
Dush remained steadfast in his view that what unfolded on Jan. 6 was not an insurrection.
"If there had been some sort of plot for an insurrection, that would've come apart quite quickly after the government got the control back," he said in a phone interview.
There have been some earlier attempts to prevent certain officials from either running for or holding office.
A New Hampshire bill that would have barred anyone who participates in an insurrection or rebellion from holding office in the state died last year.
Also last year, groups brought lawsuits under a rarely cited section of the 14th Amendment dealing with insurrection. They sought to disqualify a handful of U.S. House members from seeking reelection for events surrounding the Jan. 6 riot.
In New Mexico, a state court in September disqualified a rural county commissioner from holding public office for engaging in the Capitol insurrection. Couy Griffin had been previously convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering the Capitol grounds, without going inside the building. He was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served.
The judge permanently barred Griffin, who was then an elected commissioner from Otero County, from federal and local public office.
In West Virginia, a former state lawmaker who pleaded guilty to a felony — civil disorder — for participating in the riot and who served time, announced earlier this month that he was running for Congress.
"We have to really rid ourselves of those who would take down our government," said Duff, the Connecticut lawmaker. "There's no place for any of them to be (in) any kind of elected or appointed officer."