THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

JetBlue passenger stunned over charges

Says he swatted attendant’s hand away from pocket

By David Abel and Stewart Bishop
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2011

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A construction worker from Portsmouth, Va., who was taken off a JetBlue flight by State Police after it landed in Boston Tuesday for allegedly slapping a flight attendant, spoke out yesterday and said he is in disbelief over the ordeal and denied any wrongdoing.

Bryan Garnett, 48, was arrested Tuesday morning at Logan International Airport on charges of interfering with a flight crew and assault and battery, but a clerk magistrate later declined to press charges against him because the incident occurred in Florida, not in Massachusetts.

In an interview with the Globe yesterday, Garnett said he was in West Palm Beach visiting his brother and was on his way to South Weymouth to work at a construction site at the South Weymouth Naval Air Station.

He said that shortly after boarding Flight 422 in West Palm Beach, he reclined his seat and fell asleep. Garnett said he awoke to a flight attendant’s hand near his money clip, which was in his left pants pocket near the button that controls the seat’s incline, and he instinctively swatted it away.

“All I did was I went to block my bill folder,’’ Garnett said. “Why is that a crime? I had about $700 in my pocket.’’

The same flight attendant later came by and instructed Garnett to put his bag beneath his seat. A Globe reporter who was on the flight and was seated two rows away said Garnett had apparently attempted to comply with the instructions, but the flight attendant was not satisfied.

Last night, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, Allison Steinberg, referred all questions about the incident to “local authorities.’’

Garnett said the rest of the flight was quiet and uneventful, until the plane landed in Boston and the same flight attendant handed him a “level two slip.’’

“He said I was interfering with the flight, [and] he said I would have to meet police at the gate,’’ Garnett said. “I was very surprised. I didn’t do anything. I complied. What did I do?’’

It was not clear last night if Garnett would be charged in Florida. Garnett said that his brother is an officer in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and that he said the sheriff’s office had no plans to charge him.

The sheriff’s office — which has jurisdiction over Palm Beach International Airport, where the flight began — had no one available to comment late last night.

The state’s attorney in Florida also could not be reached for comment last night.

“The message I would like to tell people is that you should expect the unexpected,’’ Garnett said. “I try to live right. I can’t believe what happened.’’

Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com; Bishop at sbishop@globe.com.