February 09, 2017 10:42 PM
The Washington County Attorney's Office has charged a bus assistant with six counts of second-degree sexual assault for allegedly inappropriately touching at least six girls ages 3-5 on a school bus.
According to the criminal complaint, video from the school bus for children with special needs shows 70-year-old Harvey Theodore Kneifl touching six children on their genitals above their clothing on two separate occasions.
At least three children confirmed the inappropriate touching with authorities.
"Personaly it sets my hair on fire, professionally it makes me glad I went into this job," Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said.
"These are the most vulnerable people we have, and if our kids aren't safe, we're not safe," he added.
Allegations against Kneifl were made when parents of a pre-school student within the South Washington County School District told police their daughter told them she had been inappropriately touched on her way to school.
A search of the requirements for a bus assistant position with the school district revealed the individual in that position is required to "assist drivers of Special Education buses with any special care and attention students may need."
Police contacted the transportation division of the school district requesting bus video, rosters and contact information for the students on bus routes Kneifl has worked.
Kneifl was arrested at his home, in a senior living center in Woodbury, according to authorities. A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS search revealed Kneifl does not have a prior record in Minnesota or in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where he previously lived.
The complaint states: "He admitted that 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 make the girls feel good because 'they come from a hard life and likely do not get any sort of affection at home.'"
He told authorities he develops closer relationships to the children than their parents and that he likes to sit next to the girls because they are "more fun," according to the criminal complaint.
Kneifl is currently being held at the Washington County Jail. Each felony charges carries a maximum penalty of 25 years and $35,000 fine.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said in a statement, "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."
The superintendent of the South Washington County School District issued a statement to parents Thursday, which read:
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.
Rebecca Omastiak and Theresa Malloy
Updated: February 09, 2017 10:42 PM
Created: February 09, 2017 10:49 AM
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