March 6, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Director Randall Miller avoids prison after probation breach

Director Randall Miller, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter over the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on a film set in 2014, has avoided jail time for breaching his probation order.

A Wayne County, Ga., judge ruled Wednesday that while Miller violated the terms of his probation, he did so unintentionally and thus should not go back to prison.

After spending a year in prison following Jones’ death on the set of the movie “Midnight Rider,” Miller was released in 2016 to serve the rest of his sentence on probation in California.

Last June, the state of Georgia brought an action against Miller for breaching the terms of his probation by directing another movie during his 10-year sentence.

The hearing was to determine whether Miller, who was briefly suspended and then reinstated by the Directors Guild of America after the accident, violated the probation terms and whether he did so willfully or by mistake.

“The judge denied the state’s revocation petition,” Miller’s attorney Donald Samuel, of the law firm Garland, Samuel & Loeb, said in an email. “The matter is concluded.”

Richard Jones, Sarah’s father, who attended the hearing, said the family was “disappointed in the outcome.”

Miller could not be reached for comment.

The decision is a blow for the Jones family and other victims of the 2014 accident, who have been advocating for increased safety on film sets in the wake of the tragedy.

Joyce Gilliard, a hairstylist who worked with Jones, was injured on the first day of filming when a freight train slammed into a film set on a railroad trestle outside Savannah, Ga. She was left with post-traumatic stress disorder and pain after reconstructive surgery necessary to fix her broken arm.

“I wanted him to go to jail, I wanted him to serve the rest of his term locked up,” Gilliard said in a Facebook livestream after the court hearing Wednesday afternoon. “This was a bunch of B.S.”

Los Angeles-based Miller, who attended the hearing via Zoom, has said he believed he was allowed to work as a director on the advice of his California probation supervisor and so any violation was a mistake, according to documents filed at the Wayne County Court.

On Wednesday, Judge Anthony Harrison removed any ambiguity over the terms, saying Miller could not work as a director or first assistant director or be in charge of safety during the 10-year sentence. The order will be reworded to remove any uncertainty.

John Johnson, the former chief assistant district attorney and former prosecutor of the case, said there was no dispute over the fact that Miller broke the terms of his sentence.

“At the time of the sentencing everyone understood what it meant,” said Johnson, who attended the hearing. “His excuses now are an attempt to justify his violation of that court order.”

The Jones family and others were surprised last year to learn recently that Miller had made another movie, signed off by unions including the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA. Miller co-wrote and directed the movie “Higher Grounds,” which was shot in the U.K., Colombia and Serbia; it’s a comedy about a vegan barista fighting to compete in the World Barista Championships.

Richard Jones has called for Miller to be expelled from the DGA.

“The DGA is aware of today’s court proceedings and is reviewing the matter,” said Lily Bedrossian, a spokeswoman for the DGA.

In the last decade, there have been several fatal or serious on-set accidents, sometimes because filmmakers seek to cut costs or capture dramatic shots.

In December 2019, an Atlanta jury awarded $8.6 million in damages to the family of stuntman John Bernecker, who was killed in 2017 on the set of the TV series “The Walking Dead.” In 2015, stuntwoman Olivia Jackson lost her arm in an accident on set during the filming of an installment of “Resident Evil” and two crew members of the Tom Cruise movie “American Made” died in a plane crash during production in Colombia.