UPDATED: South Washington County School Bus Aide Charged with Sexually Assaulting Preschool Students

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Harvey Kneifl (credit: Washington County Jail)

Updated February 10, 2017 3:50pm, Original article below

STILLWATER, MINN – The South Washington County School District bus aide charged with sexually assaulting students made his first court appearance today.

Harvey Kneifl, age 70, appeared in Washington County District Court in Stillwater, Minnesota. Kneifl did not enter a plea during the proceedings.  The Star Tribune reports Kneifl told the judge he was arranging to hire a lawyer.

Prosecutor Tom Wedes, of the Washington County attorney’s office, asked the judge for $1 million in bail without conditions and $250,000 conditional bail, which Miles granted.
 “The defendant preyed on children on the bus,” Wedes told the court. “They were placed in the trust of the defendant to make sure they were protected, to keep them safe, and he violated that trust.”
He also told the judge that he anticipated more victims coming forward. ~ Star Tribune

WOODBURY, MINN – A South Washington County School District school bus aide has been charged with sexually assaulting students.

According to Washington County arrest records, Harvey Kneifl was arrested in the 7500 block of Bailey Road in Woodbury on Feb. 8, 2017.  Washington County Attorney, Pete Orput, announced the filing of six counts of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault against Kneifl, age 70, on Feb. 9, 2017.  His first court appearance will be on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

According to the Washington County Attorney Press Release, Kneifl is a school bus attendant whose responsibilities were to assist children with special needs on Woodbury preschool bus routes run by the South Washington County School District (ISD 833). The Woodbury Police Department, along with ISD 833, investigated complaints made by parents against the bus driver.  Bus video reviewed by the police department showed Kneifl touching six children under age 13 on their genitals over their clothing on two occasions. When questioned by law enforcement, at least three of the children confirmed the contact seen on the school district’s video of the bus interior did occur.

In the press release Orput states:

“The first duty of this office is the protection of our children. What this defendant is alleged to have done is totally abhorrent to society.  The case will be prosecuted with that standard in mind.”

According to the Criminal Complaint, a parent of a preschooler contacted the Woodbury Police Department on Feb. 4, 2017 to report that his daughter had been inappropriately touched by Harvey and had been scared by Harvey’s actions while on the school bus route.  The Woodbury Police Department worked along with the South Washington Transportation Company (SWTC) to investigate the allegation.  SWTC obtained videos from the bus routes traveled by Harvey.  On both Jan. 27 and Feb. 3, video showed Harvey touching female children in the same manner as described by the first complainant.  The parents were notified. The children were taken for examination by a physician at which time the children told authorities that Harvey “would touch and rub their genital area with his hands.”

On Feb. 8, Harvey agreed to speak with law enforcement officers after being read his Miranda Rights.  After confirming he was present on the bus routes where the incidents occurred, Harvey told officers, he “likes to tickle, poke and hug the children, that he puts his hands on the girls’ thighs rubbing them.  He denied rubbing any of the genital areas, claiming he makes the girls feel good because ‘they come from a hard life and likely do not get any affection at home,’ he believes he becomes closer to the children than their parents and he likes sitting by the girls on the bus because they are ‘more fun’.”

ISD 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus released the following letter to parents about the incident:

Dear Parents,
I’m writing today to make you aware of a situation that has come to our attention this week, what we are doing about it and what we plan to do going forward.
On Feb. 6, we received a complaint against one of our transportation department employees. While we are forbidden by law from revealing the details of the complaint, we can share that we immediately placed the employee on paid administrative leave and commenced an investigation into the situation by engaging a qualified outside investigator. That investigation is ongoing and it is fair to say that we are giving the matter our utmost attention.
While it is frustrating to many, data privacy laws prohibit us from providing any additional information about this matter at this time. By law, we are precluded from disclosing the nature of the complaint, the identity of the individual who brought the complaint to us or the identity of any individuals who may have been impacted. Within the bounds of these constraints, we will do our best to honor our obligations to our students, their families and our employees.
The intent of this letter is to inform you of a developing situation, one that we take seriously. It is not intended to communicate that there is an ongoing risk to any student or employee. The safety and security of our students, employees and all who visit our facilities remains our highest priority and is a necessary precursor for providing a high-quality education to our students in an environment that is safe and welcoming for all.
It is possible that other public entities will be able to share more information regarding this situation. Going forward, we will continue to communicate openly and proactively on this issue even as we observe the constraints on what we can – and cannot – say. Should those constraints allow us to be more forthcoming in describing this matter and what we have done – and will do – in response, we will eagerly seize such an opportunity. (KMSP)

If convicted, Harvey faces fines up to $35,000 for each charge and up to 25 years in prison.

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