Dash Butler, Berkeley police chief for 11 years, dies at 66

Dash Butler, Berkeley’s former police chief, has died. Photo: Donna Abraham

Daschel “Dash” Butler, who served as Berkeley’s chief of police for 11 years, died Jan. 16, two days after he was scheduled to be married to his fiancée, Donna Abraham. Butler was 66.

Butler spent 30 years in the Berkeley Police Department and oversaw a number of important initiatives, according to Interim Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood. During the violent crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Berkeley saw 15 homicides in just one year, Butler oversaw the expansion of the Special Enforcement Unit that addressed drug crimes. He was also an early proponent of community policing, two bold initiatives that captured the attention of Berkeley city officials, said Greenwood. Butler was promoted straight from lieutenant to chief, a highly unusual progression, said Greenwood.

“He was a forceful, self-assured, confident leader,” said Greenwood.

Butler also oversaw the construction of the new public safety building, which houses the police and fire departments.

In September 1990, just two months after his appointment to chief, Butler supervised one of the nation’s most successful hostage rescue operations. A man named Mehrdad Dashti, 29, who suffered from schizophrenia, took 33 people hostage inside Henry’s Publick House in the Hotel Durant for seven hours. Dashti shot one hostage, who later died, and ordered sexual assaults on some of the women he had trapped. He had brought in 445 rounds of ammunition and three guns.

Berkeley’s Special Response Team eventually stormed the bar shortly after 7 a.m. and shot and killed Dashti.

After his retirement in 2001, Butler started Butler Diversified Services, a construction firm. But in 2009, after the controversial killing of Oscar Grant, Butler was tapped to serve as BART interim police chief, a position he held for two years.He worked hard to begin mending the broken relationship between the community and the police department. Butler later served as a consultant to cities, including Berkeley and Houston, according to fiancée Abraham.

The two planned to wed Jan. 14. They had been looking to move from their Oakland home to El Dorado County, she said.

“We thought we had so much more time,” said Abraham.

Butler was also deeply involved in the community. He volunteered for years with the YMCA, the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center, and Christmas in April. Butler was a contractor so he often built structures for the organizations.

Butler had a kidney transplant in 2010 and suffered from diabetes and congestive heart failure. He became sick around Christmas and was admitted to the hospital where he spiraled downward.

Dash Butler and his son, Tyson Carpenter. Photo: Carpenter family

Butler is survived by a son, Tyson Carpenter, 17, a senior at Bishop O’Dowd High School. Tyson plans to attend Sonoma State University and plans to study criminology. He is also survived by his cousin Diana Frierson and Abraham.

There will be a service for Butler on Friday, Feb. 3, at 1 p.m. at the Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., in Oakland. The Berkeley Police and BART Police department honor guards will be there, as well as a contingent of Berkeley police officers, said Greenwood.