A private pilot accused of flying into prohibited airspace above President Reagan's Santa Barbara ranch failed a polygraph test when he denied any intent to fly into the area or harm the President, according to documents filed in federal court Monday.
Ralph William Myers, indicted on two counts of making false statements to federal investigators, "was deceptive in his answers to both questions," according to the documents, but federal prosecutors say there is still no evidence that Myers knew Reagan's helicopter was nearby.
Myers, who now claims he strayed accidentally into the prohibited airspace to avoid clouds hugging the mountaintops near the ranch, on Monday waived a jury trial and agreed to let U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real decide whether he violated the law.
"We're conceding he went through the airspace. We're not conceding he knew it was presidential airspace," said his attorney, Manuel Araujo. "What we're saying is that, even assuming that everything the government says is true--so what? No one was hurt in any fashion whatsoever."
The criminal charges stem from Myers' original statements to investigators in which he claimed he had trouble with his contact lenses and that the plane strayed inadvertently near the ranch while his passenger was at the controls.
In a statement made to Secret Service investigators the next day, filed with the court on Monday, Myers conceded that he had been at the controls all along.
"I was aware of the prohibited area and should have avoided it," he said. "The reason I gave the false statement last evening was due to the fact that I was confused about the whole situation and I had already started the story about my contact lenses falling out. I was trying to stay out of more trouble."
Myers' attorneys argue that he cannot legally be found guilty because the false statements he made were not material: No one relied upon them, and he corrected himself the next day.
But Assistant U.S. Atty. George Newhouse, who is prosecuting the case, said the false statements were "obviously" material to Federal Aviation Administration officials who control the nation's airspace and of import to Secret Service investigators as well.
"What response is there other than: When the Secret Service is investigating a threat to the President of the United States everything is material," Newhouse said.
Real scheduled arguments on the issue for Feb. 1.
Newhouse said the polygraph test taken Aug. 14 showed that Myers was "deceptive in his answers" when, asked if he knowingly entered the restricted airspace or if he planned to hurt the President, he answered no to both questions.
But Newhouse said federal prosecutors believe Myers was lying only in his response to the first question.
"In some cases when one is lying to one question, you have a guilt complex that carries over to question No. 2," Newhouse said.