Richard "Dick" Winant, a 71-year-old Stanford University researcher who lives next to the Sharon Hills golf course, said he was just trying to get a better view of the night sky on March 1 when he ventured onto the golf course.
Not much later, however, he was lost. Soon, the biochemist said, he was being handcuffed and interrogated by four Atherton police officers.
He said he was detained for at least 30 minutes — long enough for the cuffs to visibly bruise his wrists — verbally abused and threatened with arrest or a three-day involuntary psychiatric hospitalization before being released, alone in the dark, to make a nearly three-mile walk home.
The police tell a different story, but say "there may be things about this incident that could have been done differently."
Mr. Winant said he set out onto the golf course, equipped with the binoculars he usually uses for bird watching, at about 8 p.m. He'd only walked on the course once before since moving there in 2001, he said, but "the moon was very beautiful. Venus was very beautiful in the sky," he said. "There's so much tree cover here," that he moved further into the golf course, but said "I still couldn't see very well."
He was not carrying a phone. "I consider them kind of dehumanizing and I don't like them," he said.
The golf course near his Country Club Fairways condominium complex, which is surrounded by the golf course, has some perimeter fencing, but it appears to be designed more to keep golf balls in than walkers out, with no fencing in many areas.
He walked in through an open gate. "I was trespassing," he admits. "I'm not a member, I'm not entitled to (use the golf course). Technically I was trespassing."
Walking on the cart path that winds through the course, Mr. Winant said he focused his binoculars on the heavens, and pondered a problem his adult son had.
"I wasn't paying attention," he said, and before long, he was lost.
He tried heading toward the grove of redwoods near his condominium, not realizing such groups of redwoods are common on the golf course. He said he "just could not find" the gate he'd entered.
Instead, he found a smaller, unlocked gate. "I just assumed there was road beyond it," he said. "I still thought I was fairly close to home."
He exhausted himself fighting the gate open through overgrown weeds, but "responsibly closed the gate again."
After walking through a small grove of redwoods, and a second unlocked gate, "I found I was in this beautiful back yard," he said. "I realized I was at this house, so now I had a dilemma," Mr. Winant said.
"I thought the most intelligent thing to do, and the right thing to do, was to walk up to their house," he said, deciding he'd "ask for help and explain my circumstances."
He knocked on a door, but screens muffled the sound, so "I knocked on the window to get their attention," he said. "I could tell the wife was a little alarmed," he said, but he explained to the couple "how I'd gotten there, why I couldn't get out," he said. The man met him in the front yard "and he directed me down towards Alameda," he said.
Here's where Mr. Winant's story begins to differ from that of police.
Sgt. Sherman Hall said that although no police report was filed on the incident, he spoke to two of the four officers involved. They said the couple who had encountered Mr. Winant had called police.
"They were spooked," he said, by a man appearing in their backyard, wearing binoculars and who "was emphatic that he did not want police." (Mr. Winant said the residents suggested a "police escort" and he declined. "I simply turned down her suggestion politely and calmly," he said.)
Mr. Winant said he then flagged down one of the officers. "I looked at the moon and realized ... I'm walking south, I need to walk north to get to Alameda," he said. "That's where I saw the police car and I waved at him," he said. "I walked over to his car and I asked 'Is Alameda down that way?'"
Sgt. Hall said the officer found Mr. Winant, after speaking to the residents, and aimed his car's spotlight at him before approaching on foot.
Mr. Winant was "cordial and non-confrontational" until he was asked for his identification, Sgt. Hall said.
Both officers told Sgt. Hall that Mr. Winant said he did not have to provide his ID, and "questioned whether this was Nazi Germany."
Mr. Winant said, "I never used any language remotely like that."
He said he grew up on a military base, with a father who was a military officer and brother a decorated Navy SEAL. "I was always respectful to those police officers," he said. "I never gave them a hassle at all."
He and the police agree, however, that soon after he declined to produce his ID, he was handcuffed. Sgt. Hall said the police needed the ID to investigate possible "criminal activity."
"We have a job to do," he said. "We need to identify the person."
He said Mr. Winant was uncooperative and "we didn't know what he was doing in the neighborhood."
"If we think you're a burglar and you're hiding something, we need to have you in handcuffs until you dispel that belief," he said.
Sgt. Hall also agreed that an officer called Mr. Winant a vulgar name. "I don't think there's any dispute that that word" was used, he said. But he also said, "the officers tried to reason with him and he wouldn't calm down." That led the officers to perform a psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Winant, which could have resulted in his being hospitalized involuntarily for three days.
Mr. Winant said he was bullied and mistreated by the officers. The sergeant who showed up was "just mean and pointlessly so," he said. He was threatened with arrest or hospitalization if he didn't apologize to the officers, he said.
Sgt. Hall said that once the officers received the results of a records check on Mr. Winant, decided he wasn't a danger to himself or others requiring hospitalization, and "dispelled our belief that he wasn't peeping or prowling," they set him free.
"Once we were satisfied there really was no intent to commit a crime," he said, the officers "offered him a cab," which Mr. Winant declined.
However, Mr. Winant said, he felt that his treatment "was all intimidation and punishment."
As to why he did not initially provide his identification to the police when asked, he said that five decades before, in 1967 when he was a Stanford student, he'd had a negative interaction with police. A lawyer had told him then that he was not required to provide ID to a police officer.
Sgt. Hall said it is true that police cannot demand identification unless they suspect criminal activity. The call from the residents, and the binoculars, provided that reasonable suspicion, he said.
Mr. Winant had also confirmed he had been in the backyard and on the golf course, which he doesn't belong to, both trespassing.
One thing Sgt. Hall said he regrets is that not one of the officers turned on their body cameras during the incident. "I would have loved to have some video of this," he said.
The officers have body cameras, but can choose whether to turn them on, he said. Sgt. Hall said he thinks the Atherton Police Department should consider changing that policy, and requiring "cameras in situations such as this."
Mr. Winant said he'd like to tell the officers that they should "be more polite" and that the sergeant needs to "find a different line of work."
He filed a formal complaint on March 17, alleging, among other things, that the officers lied, denied him his legal rights, used excessive force, and humiliated him by demanding an apology under duress.
"I would love to see some sort of discipline against" the sergeant, he said.
"The police are supposed to be there to protect and help you, and they ended up attacking," Mr. Winant said.
He said he's also staying off the golf course.