Bail was set at $1 million Friday for a Woodbury man charged with molesting six preschool girls on South Washington County school buses.
Harvey Theodore Kneifl appeared to nod and grin at someone in the Stillwater courtroom as he made his first court appearance since being charged Thursday with six counts of felony second-degree sexual assault.
Some of the children riding on the Woodbury route where Kneifl worked had special needs, police said.
In the criminal complaint, Kneifl denied that he touched the girls’ genital areas, but said “he makes the girls feel good because ‘they come from a hard life and likely do not get any sort of affection at home.’ ”
The 70-year-old bus attendant, employed by the school district’s transportation division since 2012, didn’t enter a plea at Friday’s proceeding. He told Washington County District Judge Susan Miles that he would hire an attorney.
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 she 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.”
Parents of children named by their initials in the criminal complaint attended the hearing. Wedes told the judge that he anticipated more victims.
Woodbury police continue to investigate that possibility, spokeswoman Michelle Okada said Friday.
“Supporting the families as they learn that their young child may be a victim of this crime continues to be a top priority for our agency,” Okada said. “Detectives are taking extra time to meet with families as they work through the various steps of the process.”
Kneifl reportedly was a bus driver in the Stillwater school district before working in the South Washington County district as a driver and more recently as a bus aide.
He has no prior criminal record, Wedes said in court, and was described as working to support his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease.
Barbara Brown, a manager at South Washington Schools, declined Friday to explain the district’s procedures in screening backgrounds of bus employees.
Kneifl will make his next court appearance Feb. 23 before District Judge Mary Hannon.