‘Cheer’ tar Jerry Harris arrested on charge of production of child pornography

Jeremiah “Jerry” Harris, one of the students featured in Netflix’s breakout docuseries “Cheer,” has been arrested on a production of child pornography charge, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick.

Chicago-area native Jerry Harris rocketed to fame earlier this year as the breakout star of the Netflix docuseries “Cheer,” parlaying his contagious exuberance into talk show appearances, an Oscars gig and more than a million Instagram followers.

But the young star’s image was shattered Thursday when FBI agents arrested him on child pornography charges, alleging he repeatedly coerced minor victims to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and solicited sex from boys as young as 13 at cheerleading competitions.

Harris, 21, is accused of “enticing an underage boy to produce sexually explicit videos and photos of himself,” according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

The minor was 13 at the time, the complaint said.

Harris made his initial court appearance Thursday afternoon at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, walking into the courtroom wearing a disposable face mask, red shirt and gray pants. He then stood next to his lawyer with his hands behind his back. Federal agents stood nearby.

Prosecutors told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman they want Harris held without bond pending trial because he is a danger to the community and is accused of crimes of violence against children.

Harris’s attorney said he will seek his release saying he is “asthmatic” and at risk for Covid-19. Production of child pornography is punishable by a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years, a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office stated.

Harris was interviewed by law enforcement this week on these accusations, according to the criminal complaint.

Harris was ordered to remain in custody pending another hearing scheduled for Monday.

After Thursday’s 10-minute hearing was over, Harris kept his eyes to the ground as he was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom. His lawyer, Todd Pugh, had no comment as he left the courthouse.

The criminal charges appear to be related to a lawsuit filed in Texas this week by two teenagers who accused him of “sexual harassment, exploitation, manipulation, intimidation and sexual abuse.” Harris has denied those allegations through a spokesperson.

“We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager,” the statement read. “We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”

A manager for Harris could not immediately be reached.

“Like everyone we are shocked by this news,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “Any abuse of minors is a terrible crime and we respect the legal process.”

Harris was arrested shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, three days after the FBI raided his home in an upscale Naperville neighborhood in the 2600 block of Evercrest Court. USA Today was the first to report on the raid and criminal investigation.

The U.S. attorney’s office said Thursday its investigation is ongoing, and any other potential victims were encouraged to contact the FBI Chicago field office.

According to the criminal complaint, Harris first contacted one male victim on Snapchat in December 2018 and, over the next 15 months repeatedly enticed him to produce sexually explicit videos and photographs of himself and send them to Harris. The boy informed Harris during their initial online encounter that he was 13 years old, the complaint stated.

The victim’s parent discovered some of the images on the boy’s cellphone and confronted him, and he said that Harris had also solicited oral sex from him in a bathroom at a cheerleading event they both attended, according to the charges.

The boy told his parent Harris had also sought a second in-person sexual encounter at a different competition, according to the complaint. The parent then called law enforcement.

After the FBI raided Harris’ Naperville home on Monday, he admitted to agents during an interview that he had solicited lewd images and sex from the boy on numerous occasions, according to the complaint.

The complaint stated Harris also admitted to soliciting and receiving child pornograph on Snapchat from “at least between 10 to 15 other individuals he knew were minors.”

The charges include numerous screenshots from the phone of the first victim — identified only as Minor 1 — including nude images purportedly demanded by Harris of the boy doing a cheerleading move called “the Needle.”

“doit naked take a video and show me,” Harris allegedly wrote, followed by a winking emoji.

Another screenshot contained a message allegedly sent by Harris in which he apologized for his behavior.

“I’m sorry for what I’ve done in the past,” the message read. “I don’t think it’s a good idea we be friends on Snap.”

The complaint lists a total of five minors who allegedly had sexual contact with Harris, including two who reached out to law enforcement and were interviewed earlier this week.

One of those boys — identified in the complaint as Minor 4 — said he’d met Harris at a party over the summer, where he told Harris he was 17. Harris later contacted the minor on Snapchat and asked him to send lewd photos of his body, which the boy initially refused to do, according to the complaint.

“Minor 4 described Harris as relentless and asking for naked photos of Minor 4 for three straight hours,” the complaint stated.

Harris eventually told the teen he was willing to pay for photos and sent money through on online service along with specific instructions on what he wanted, according to the complaint. Minor 4 later convinced an acquaintance, Minor 5, to also send Harris photos, the complaint alleged.

In all, Harris paid Minor 4 about $2,000 to $3,000 before ending the relationship on Aug. 22, when he sent Minor 4 a final $500 and instructions to block him on Snapchat, the complaint alleged.

“Cheer” recently won two Emmy Awards and is nominated for outstanding unstructured reality program, which will be announced during the last night of the virtual Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Saturday.

He worked the Oscars red carpet in February as a correspondent for Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. He shared a stage with Oprah Winfrey, appeared in a sketch on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and recently got a surprise virtual visit from actress Gabrielle Union, who showered him with praise.

Since “Cheer” premiered, Harris has amassed more than 1.2 million Instagram followers and partnered with various brands. A representative for the Schmidt’s deodorant company said Thursday that its partnership with Harris has ended, saying “Schmidt’s is firmly committed to ensuring a safe environment for everyone. While we partnered with Jerry from May through July of 2020, we are no longer working with him.”

Timi Olaniyi

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