A Hennepin County jury has acquitted a former school bus driver who faced felony charges after he wouldn't let an 11-year-old Minneapolis girl off his bus.

Jose T. Lopez, who is in his mid-30s, of Richfield was charged with false imprisonment and second-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct in March. On Tuesday, the jury found him not guilty after a trial that began Nov. 17, said Patrick Cotter, his attorney.

The jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching the verdict, Cotter said.

When questioned by investigators after the Jan. 27 bus incident, Lopez said that he "had feelings he did not want to act on and that he needed help," court documents said. But the defense argued that statements made by Lopez were obtained through "coercive interview techniques," Cotter said. "He felt he had no choice but to appease the investigator -- that if he didn't admit to something, he would go to jail."

The defense also argued that there were inconsistencies between accounts gathered by school officials and police from the girl and other witnesses.

On Jan. 27, the girl was heading home from Minnesota International Middle School on a bus driven by Lopez. She had just moved to a new home, and it was her second day on the bus, a court document said. She tried to get off at her stop in the Phillips neighborhood, but Lopez declined even when other children argued with him to let her off, the document said. Instead, he continued dropping off students until she was the only one left.

Lopez eventually pulled over and allegedly put his hand on the girl's leg -- an accusation the driver denied, his attorney said. She became frightened and started to cry, and Lopez dropped her off in an area of Minneapolis she didn't know, the court document said.

The incident wasn't reported to police until Feb. 17, after one of the girl's friends learned about it.

Cotter said that the girl had missed her stop amid fighting in the back of the bus that Lopez had been trying to break up. She wasn't on the driver's list because she was new, and bus company protocol called for Lopez to finish his route rather than go back, his attorney said. He did stop the bus later and asked her a few questions related to getting her home, but never touched her, Cotter said. Lopez dropped off the girl within a few blocks of her house, his attorney said.

Lopez was fired from his job as a result of the incident, and now works for a sanitation company, Cotter said. "These were devastating charges," he said.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016