STILLWATER, Minn. - An elderly school bus aide stands charged with six counts of criminal sexual conduct for indecently touching young children.
Washington County prosecutors filed those charges Thursday against 70-year-old Harvey Theodore Kneifl of Woodbury. Records indicate that five of the alleged victims are four-years-old, and one is five.
“The first duty of this office is the protection of our children," said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput. "What this defendant is alleged to have done is totally abhorrent to society. The case will be prosecuted with that standard in mind.”
A criminal complaint details how Woodbury police were contacted February 4 by the father of a four-year-old girl who said the previous day there was a substitute aide on her bus. The girl said the aide, identified by police as Harvey Kneifl, sat down next to her and began rubbing her leg, then reached over and roughly rubbed her genital area four or five times. The little girl told her parents she was scared by the man's actions.
After taking the report a Woodbury Police investigators made contact with the director of the bus company, South Washington Transportation Company. The director immediately began cooperating with law enforcement, proving the names of the bus driver, the defendant, all the children on the route and on-board video from the bus. The company told authorities the bus route is for Pre-K and special needs children, and an aide is supposed to help the children on the bus and make sure they are traveling to school in a safe manner.
When investigators reviewed the video, the defendant was seen rubbing the genitals of a number of young girls over their clothing in a sexual manner. The bus company then provided additional videotape that also showed Kneifl sexually touching other young female students. The parents of all six victims were informed of what had happened, and three of the alleged victims were interviewed at the Midwest Children's Resource Center, a facility that deals with young victims of sexual abuse. All three girls said Kneifl would touch their genitals with his hands.
Kneifl was detained and read his Miranda rights. When questioned by detectives, he reportedly told them he likes to tickle, poke and hug the children, and puts his hands on the thighs of girls and rubs them. He denied rubbing the genitals of any child, claiming he makes the girls feel good because "they come from a hard life and likely do not get any sort of affection at home." Investigators say the defendant told them he becomes close to the children than their parents, and he likes sitting by the girls on this bus because they are "more fun."
He was immediately arrested and taken to the Washington County Jail. If found guilty, Kneifl faces the potential of a 25-year prison sentence on each of six counts.
Barbara Brown, Director of Communications for South Washington County Schools released the following statement:
On Feb. 6, we received a complaint against one of our transportation department employees. 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. Data privacy laws prohibit us 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 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.