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Parents gasp and cry as video shows Minnesota school-bus aide touching their daughters

Harvey Kneifl

WOODBURY, Minn. — Parents of young girls allegedly molested by Woodbury school bus aide gasped and cried in a Stillwater courtroom on Monday morning as they saw for the first time surveillance videos showing Harvey Kneifl touching their daughters.

In one of the videos, Kneifl can be seen rubbing a 4-year-old girl’s inner thigh and genital area for 27 seconds.

In another, he can be seen rubbing a different 4-year-old girl’s genital area and can be heard asking: “Does that feel good? Do you like it? Does that feel good?”

In clip after clip presented by Washington County prosecutor Imran Ali, Kneifl can be seen rubbing his right hand on girls’ legs, buttocks or inner thighs. The girls ranged in age from 4 to 7.

“As parents, there are certain things that stick with us through time,” Ali said in. “Those memories remain within us: First word. First step. First time we let children go away from us. We trust that those institutions … are there to protect our children That all changed in 2017 when (Kneifl) began to target these young girls on the school bus.”

Kneifl, 72, of Woodbury, has been charged with 10 felony counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly groping 10 girls as they rode the South Washington County School District bus.

The closing arguments in his bench trial were originally scheduled for Jan. 31, but Kneifl failed to appear that morning. When Woodbury police officers went to check on him, they found his wife, Julie, dead in their residence in the St. Therese of Woodbury senior housing complex.

Kneifl, who is being held in the Washington County Jail, has been charged with second-degree homicide. An omnibus hearing, in that case, is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 10; a jury trial is scheduled for May 28.

His homicide charge was not mentioned during closing arguments on Monday.

Ali said Kneifl ignored young boys on the bus and would go out of his way to sit by young girls; the bus route is for pre-K and special-needs children in Woodbury,

“He targeted only little girls,” Ali said. “He tricked these girls into being their friend. He tickled them. He hugged them. He kissed them. He traumatized them.”

In all of the cases, Kneifl touched the girls with “sexual or aggressive intent,” Ali said.

One girl, who was 4, told an interviewer that a “grown-up boy” on the bus “touched her privates and touched her under her pants, skin to skin,” Ali said.

Kneifl’s attorney, Christopher Keyser, said the surveillance videos were, in at least four cases, unclear. He argued the other six videos were exculpatory, clearly showing that Kneifl did not touch the girls, dressed in winter coats and snow pants, with sexual or aggressive intent.

In one of the cases, Kneifl puts “his hand on her leg and rubs back and forth almost like a grandfather rubbing the leg of a granddaughter,” Keyser said. “Should he be touching them like that? No. But the bus video shows no unlawful conduct.”

In another case, Keyser said, what can be seen on the surveillance video is “wildly different” from what prosecutors allege. “The state sees behavior that does not exist,” he said.

In the case of a 4-year-old girl, Kneifl can be seen putting his hand on her inner upper thigh, Keyser said.

“What does the video actually show? His hand placement is nowhere near (the girl’s) crotch or vagina. Is it inappropriate that his hand is on her leg? Yes. But that’s not the standard for (second-degree) criminal-sexual conduct.”

Keyser said police executed a search warrant on Kneifl’s house and did not find any evidence of child pornography. He also said his client told police: “I like to see the kids have fun on the bus. I squeeze their legs, but it’s not sexual for me or them.”

Kneifl, shackled and dressed in a jail-issued blue shirt and pants, did not speak during the court hearing.

Judge Greg Galler took the case under advisement.

Parents of the girls met with Ali after closing arguments; they declined to comment.

“This past year and a half has been difficult for everybody,” Ali said. “They want this to be over. Right now, we’re just waiting for the verdict and, we hope, a sentencing.”

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