The Case of Henry's Publick House - Incident Summary
A legacy of BPD's Barricaded Subject/Hostage Negotiation Team (BSHNT)
(By Sergeant Thomas Curtin, this text is a 2011 abridged revision of a 1991 article he co-wrote with Sergeant Michael Holland (retired) published in the National Tactical Officer’s Association’s, "The Tactical Edge")
In 1976, the City of Berkeley (CA) Police Department established the Barricaded Subject Hostage Negotiation Team (BSHNT), a critical incident response unit which evolved from its original, the Mobile Unique Situation Team (MUST). In 1990, BSHNT was comprised of 43 active members assigned to four operational elements: Field Command, Tactical, Negotiator, and Support Services. At the time, BSHNT was the second largest tactical unit in Alameda County.
As with many law enforcement tactical teams, BSHNT had trained to resolve barricade situations, with or without hostages. Through 1990, the Team had responded to well over 100 critical incidents, the majority being barricaded subjects. Some of those events were atypical ‘hostage’ incidents, involving persons associated with the offender who were not held against their will. As such, the Henry’s Hostage Incident was the Team’s first response to a classic hostage-taking.
Just before midnight on the evening of September 26, 1990, Mehrdad Dashti, a 29 year old Iranian male, and a friend entered Henry's Publick House and Grille, located on the lobby level of the Durant Hotel. Henry’s was, and continues to be, a popular restaurant and bar in Berkeley’s South Campus area, one block south of the University of California, Berkeley.
Dashti told his friend earlier that evening he wanted to go to a public place where a lot of “blonde white women” would be. The friend chose Henry’s. The pair entered the pub just after last call and chose a table in the corner of the room at the end of the bar. As Dashti's friend went to the bar Dashti went to his truck parked outside on Durant Avenue and returned with a briefcase.
Midnight passed and Dashti opened the briefcase to remove a large caliber revolver. In the briefcase were two other handguns, one fully automatic pistol and the other a semi-automatic, and ammunition for all three weapons. Without warning, Dashti opened fire upon the patrons seated at and near the bar. Chaos erupted and people dropped to the floor or scrambled toward exits.
Of the 67 people known to be in the pub when the assault began, about half were able to escape in the first minutes. Others escaped a short time later when Dashti allowed them to help the injured out of the pub. In five minutes, seven people had been shot and 38 others had been taken hostage.
The Patrol Response
A patrol officer, on a pedestrian stop a half a block west of Henry's Pub, heard what he thought were firecrackers and went to investigate. As he neared the area, he saw people running from the pub and heard what he then realized was gunfire. The officer radioed for assistance and then moved to help fleeing victims.
Officers from Berkeley and University of California Police Departments responded to the pub. On-duty BSHNT members deployed rifles and took up positions around the bar and inside the hotel lobby. Non-BSHNT officers supplemented the containment and facilitated other activities, such as evacuations, assisting injured victims, detaining and interviewing other victims, including Dashti's friend, who had also run from the pub.
An Officer Is Shot
About ten or so minutes after the incident began, Dashti allowed two hostages, a man and an injured woman, to leave through the front door. The man, holding the woman with one arm over her shoulder, was thought to be the hostage taker and confronted by officers. Both hostages stopped on the front landing and stood still for a moment. Perceiving an opportunity, a patrol sergeant moved forward to rescue the woman. Two BSHNT officers followed in support.
The sergeant climbed the front stairs grabbed the woman and began to pull her away. At this moment, Dashti shot toward the front door and windows. One of the bullets grazed the sergeant's forehead. One of the assisting BSHNT officers fired back, as the other rescued the injured sergeant and female hostage. Though the last person shot by Dashti was safe, 37 people remained hostage in the pub.
Dashti isolated himself by sitting against the north wall on the floor. He placed hostages across doors and windows as human shields, and used two as communication intermediaries with police. Early in the event, he told one hostage to smash out the window in the front door window and shout his demands. Later, Dashti had another talk with negotiators on the telephone; he refused to move from his position and speak directly with police negotiators.
At one point, Dashti became frustrated with what he perceived as police not taking him seriously and committed what some described as a mock execution of his first intermediary. After telling the hostage he was going to kill him and to face away, Dashti fired bullets into the ceiling above the hostage’s head. The absence of observed hostage reaction suggested no one had been injured, and the hostage soon continued to yell Dashti’s demands.
Dashti entered the pub that night with insidious purpose: take revenge on the United States by hurting and defiling her citizens. His wanton and reckless shooting was not the only violent act he committed. Seeing “blonde white women” as a particular target, he directed male hostages to sexually assault specific women. Most assaults were courageously kept from Dashti’s view and feigned. Regrettably, some could not be concealed.
The BSHNT Response
Recall of off-duty BSHNT members started at 12:15 a.m., minutes after the violence began. An emergency action tactical team arrived at the Field Command Post (FCP) within 40 minutes. As other Team members arrived, they were briefed and deployed to containment and other support assignments.
Shortly past 3:00 a.m., a sniper team requested that specific streetlamps be extinguished, as their position and safety were being compromised. Other Team members accomplished this by shooting out the lights with suppressed weapons. Within the pub, Dashti heard the muffled gunfire and breaking glass, saw the streetlights go out, and had his intermediary yell, "Hey, what are you doing?" A few moments later, police heard bursts of automatic gunfire inside the bar. Again, the particular absence of hostage reaction suggested no one was injured.
A half hour had passed since the streetlamps were extinguished when a rear door from the pub’s kitchen opened and a female hostage stepped out. She was escorted to the FCP where she explained Dashti sent her into the kitchen to find a light switch and turn off the pub lights. When she saw the rear exit door, she fled.
The hostage offered details of what was happening in the pub. Of great significance, she said Dashti was watching live TV news coverage of the incident on the pub's television. When the news anchor reported one of the shooting victims had died, Dashti became extremely agitated; the live news reporting was having a serious effect on the dynamics of the incident.
Sometime around 4:00 a.m., another female hostage who had moved into and remained hidden in the pub’s dining room managed to open a tall accordion-style door to the hotel lobby. She crawled out and escaped to containment officers in the lobby.
In the pre-dawn quiet, around 6:15 a.m., the rear kitchen door opened again. A third female hostage sent to look for the pub’s light switches had managed to escape. 33 hostages remained in the pub.
Establishing communication with Dashti was a major objective from the outset of the incident. A UCPD officer (a hostage negotiator with that agency) tried to establish a dialogue regarding Dashti’s demands and comments called out by the hostage intermediary. However, distance distorted the back-and-forth shouts; ‘voice-to-voice’ from outside the building wasn’t a practical option.
Within the first hour, an on-duty BSHNT negotiator tried to establish phone contact into the pub, but was not successful due to the complex PBX phone system used by the hotel. After many other avenues of communication failed or were found to be unworkable, negotiators went back to the PBX phone system and eventually connected with the pub’s phone line.
From the lobby offices, some 40 feet from the pub, negotiators spoke with Dashti via a second hostage intermediary. The pub’s hard-wired phone would not reach Dashti, and when requested to come to the phone, Dashti refused. The dialogue was forced to continue through the intermediary. Negotiation by proxy proved challenging and ultimately unproductive.
Negotiators realized a negotiated resolution of the incident was becoming less likely. Specific communications to Dashti were rephrased and ‘softened’ by the intermediary. And, for his unusual demands – one demand made was that the U.S. government pay Dashti $16 trillion for "mental telepathy" services – they believed Dashti was not in full command of his mental faculties and capable of rational thought processes.
At about 6:30 a.m., negotiators advised the Field Commander they held no expectation of a negotiated resolution to the incident. In turn, the Field Commander contacted the Operations Commander and the Chief of Police, advised them of the negotiators’ opinion and available tactical alternatives
Negotiations had reached an impasse. Employing a “wait” strategy posed a risk to the safety of the hostages, uninvolved hotel guests and staff, and the waking college community. The use of chemical agents was not a reasonable option due to associated risk to the hostages. Marksman fire was also not an option as Dashti remained out of view. The recommendation of the Field Commander was to activate the tactical entry-rescue plan and apprehend Dashti, if possible.
The tactical team on scene in the first hour had quickly developed an emergency rescue plan. A refined version employed diversion devices to support an entry into the pub. Facilities provided by the University of California were used to practice and assess the plan. When completed, the Team Leader briefed the Field Commander, who directed the entry team to the hotel’s garage and wait for further instruction. With command approval, tactical teams moved to their respective staging positions at about 7:10 a.m.
At 7:23 a.m., diversion devices were initiated in the pub’s kitchen, and the entry team entered the pub’s dining room through the open accordion door. A hostage in an open north wall window next to Dashti jumped out and ran to safety. As the team came into view of Dashti and the pub, they repeatedly yelled, "Police! Get down!"
Photo courtesy of The Oakland Tribune
When the diversion devices initiated, the overpressure caused the two swinging kitchen doors to move. Dashti fired two shots toward the sudden sound and door movement. He then rose, turned away from the kitchen and started toward a large group of hostages seated in a booth close by.
Two entry team members saw Dashti’s movement, perceived an immediate threat to the hostages, and fired their weapons. Dashti was hit by all rounds fired and fell to the floor. From diversion to the last round fired by the entry team, 8.6 seconds had passed.
Neither hostage nor entry team were injured during the rescue entry. Dashti was handcuffed and a support team was called into the pub. They facilitated the evacuation of rescued hostages and accomplished a secondary search of location. During this activity, Berkeley Fire Department paramedics entered the pub to provide emergency medical services to the gravely injured Dashti. Notwithstanding their efforts, Dashti died en route to the hospital.
Operational Analyses and Debriefings
The days following the incident resulted in many public and private Department, Team, and hostage debriefings. Most of the open Department meetings reviewed tactical and logistical issues surrounding the police response. The private debriefings, many moderated by mental health professionals, explored of the emotional impact the incident had on those involved.
One major issue discussed in many of the public meetings was the negative role the media played in the incident. Many Department employees and rescued hostages expressed concern and anger about the perceived irresponsibility of the coverage.
Using high-power cameras, monitoring police radio frequencies, and seeking public interviews, the media obtained and broadcast detailed and often uncorroborated information about the incident. Without regard for adverse effect, they broadcast live casualty information, opinions and assumptions about Dashti’s “deranged” mental state, and frequent updates about police activity, including the entry-rescue team’s approach to the hotel’s front entryway just prior to the rescue. But for Dashti watching another television channel at that moment, the live broadcast would’ve alerted him to the impending recue entry.
About one month after the incident, a majority of the BSHNT and about half of the rescued hostages met to discuss the incident. The two-hour dialogue gave an extraordinary opportunity to share experiences and receive answers to important questions. Much of what was learned about what happened in the pub was learned in this meeting.
Myriad analyses, meetings and public discussions revealed so many ‘learning moments’ the Department felt a responsibility to share the information with the greater law enforcement community. In the months and years that followed, members of the BSHNT traveled throughout the country to facilitate over 20 formal operational debriefing presentations.
In the course of seven and a half hours on a cool September morning, Cit of Berkeley Police Department and its BSHNT experienced the most dangerous and volatile situation it has ever faced. Of the 67 persons in Henry's Publick House and Grille when the shooting began, about half escaped within the first few minutes. One victim died and eight others were wounded, including a police officer. In the end, Mehrdad Dashti was fatally wounded by police gunfire and 33 hostages were rescued. To date, the incident is recognized by the law enforcement and tactical operations communities as one of the most significant hostage rescue operations in U.S. history.