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Berkeley Police Chief to retire

By Devona Walker Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 29, 2002

Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler has endured a lot in his 31 years of service to the community— riots, numerous protests, a growing department and community and a prolific citizenry. As of July 13, Butler will retire, and the community must learn to endure without him. 

“The thing I respect most about Dash is that he’s a tough cop, but he’s also a very human one as well,” said City Manager Weldon Rucker, who will soon have to search for a replacement. 

Rucker says the current climate in law enforcement will make conducting a national search difficult. Most likely, an acting chief will be appointed internally to fill the opening. 

“What has made him so valuable is that he has served as an officer as well as a chief. Out of his 31 years on the force, he’s spent 12 years as chief and the rest as an officer,” Rucker said. “One of his greatest accomplishments is, as an officer and a chief, has been the leadership he has taken in the drug task force.”  

Rucker recalled one situation in particular that was very difficult for the department and the community. Hostages were taken in 1990, and the tension was on. According to Rucker, that was a situation in which many knew going in there were going to be casualties. 

“We all knew someone was going to die, and we just hoped it was not going to be an innocent member of the community,” he added. 

At this time, Butler had been chief for only a few months, according to Rucker, and he was in a very tight spot with the eyes of the community upon him.  

“He showed us that day what he was made of,” Rucker said, adding that the manner in which the police and the newly appointed chief handled the situation showed great character. 

The incident in question was Sept. 27, 1990, when a man named Mehrdad Dashti entered Henry’s Pub House Restaurant and Grill with an automatic pistol and then without warning opened fire into the air and at seated patrons. Within minutes, seven people were shot and 37 of the original 67 patrons were taken hostage.  

During the next several hours, the police tried to engage in negotiations with Dashti and negotiated the release of some of the hostages. Negotiations were complicated by the fact that the gunman was suffering from an apparent mental health disorder. 

In the end, the Berkeley Police Department managed to minimize the risk to the majority of the hostages and end the standoff successfully. One UC Berkeley student was killed by the gunman. One officer received a superficial wound from the gunman. And the gunman himself was eventually shot and killed by officers. 

One hundred and fifty police officers and reserves as well as numerous non-sworn department members were utilized in this incident. It was perhaps one of the largest of such incidents in recent history. As a result, the Berkeley Police Department trained other departments on how to handle a hostage situation of such magnitude.  

“When it was time for our team to go in, we just knew someone was going to die. There was one hostage dead already,” Rucker said. But upon arriving on the scene no more casualties, other than the gunman himself, occurred.  

A full summary of this incident and the strategies that the Berkeley Police Department used in apprehending this suspect were published in the national Law Enforcement magazine. 

The next year, Berkeley was engrossed in a fire that has forever scarred its landscape and also necessitated strong leadership from public officials. 

Search for a replacement 

“Now it’s time for us to begin a new chapter,” Rucker added. 

According to Rucker, he will make the search for a replacement police chief as open to the public as possible.  

But Deputy Chief Roy Mizner will likely be appointed as acting chief until the city finds a replacement.