‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris arrested on federal child pornography charge
Jerry Harris, the breakout star of Netflix’s cheerleading series “Cheer,” was arrested in Illinois Thursday morning on a federal child pornography charge.
The 21-year-old athlete has been accused of enticing an underage boy to produce sexually explicit videos and photos of himself, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Illinois.
The Naperville-based cheerleader, full name Jeremiah Harris, allegedly contacted an underage boy, who told Harris he was 13 at the time, through social media, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The complaint charges Harris with one count of producing child pornography.
Harris was scheduled to make an initial court appearance Thursday afternoon in Chicago.
Production of child pornography is punishable by a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years, the Department of Justice said. The federal investigation remains ongoing.
With a focus on personal stories, director Greg Whiteley calls the visual style of his Netflix documentary ‘Cheer’ ‘simultaneously aggressive and poetic.’
USA Today, which first reported the allegations, said Monday that multiple sources told the newspaper the FBI was investigating accusations that Harris solicited sexually explicit photos and sex from minors.
In a lawsuit filed Monday, twin brothers in Texas said that beginning when they were 13, Harris allegedly sent them sexually explicit photos and videos of himself, and in February 2019 cornered one boy in a bathroom at a cheer competition and begged for oral sex, the Associated Press reported. The boys are now 14.
The boys described a pattern of harassment both online and at cheer competitions, which began when they were 13 and Harris was 19. They told USA Today it continued for over a year.
“We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager,” a spokesperson for Harris told ABC News earlier this week. “We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”
The federal complaint, which includes explicit images of some of the exchanges, said that in a voluntary interview conducted on Sept. 14, Harris admitted to law enforcement that he asked one of the boys to take photos and videos of the minor’s penis and buttocks and to send them to Harris through Snapchat, knowing that the boy was 13 years old.
He “further admitted to engaging in ongoing Snapchat conversations” with the boy beginning in December 2018 and continuing through March 2020, the complaint said. Harris acknowledged to law enforcement “that he in fact received such photos and videos from Minor 1 through the Snapchat application.”
The boys’ lawsuit also accuses the cheer organizations U.S. All Star Federation, Varsity Spirit and Cheer Athletics of failing to protect the boys, AP reported. USASF governs competitive cheerleading, Varsity Spirit puts on competitions and Cheer Athletics is a chain of gyms. The organizations largely distanced themselves from the allegations.
According to USA Today, a Varsity official said the organization had learned of “inappropriate sexual conduct” allegations against Harris. And Cheer Athletics owner Angela Rogers told the newspaper that Harris hasn’t been affiliated with the gym since March 1. Rogers learned of the allegations against Harris in mid-May and reported them to police.
The lawsuit said the boys’ mother reported Harris to USASF, Varsity and Cheer Athletics and that she called Fort Worth police as well as the FBI.
Netflix docuseries ‘Cheer’ has turned the Navarro College cheerleaders and their no-nonsense coach into reality stars.
“We are grateful that the U.S. Attorney and the FBI have taken swift action to protect children by investigating, arresting and charging Jerry Harris,” the victims’ attorneys, Morgan Stewart and Sarah Klein, said in a statement to The Times. “This was made possible because our clients’ mother had the courage to report Harris to the FBI as well as the Fort Worth Police Department and provided evidentiary proof of the manipulation, sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation that her sons had suffered.”
The attorneys urged authorities to investigate USASF, Varsity Spirit and Cheer Athletics “to determine which of their executives, employees and representatives could have stopped Harris’ abuse and failed to do so.”
The six-part documentary series “Cheer,” which was released in January, followed Harris and his elite cheerleading squad from Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, as they vied for a national title. Harris became a fan favorite for his upbeat “mat talk,” and his success landed him on the Oscars red carpet earlier this year to interview celebrities for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
The reality series was nominated for six Primetime Emmy Awards and won two in a Creative Arts ceremony Monday — one for directing and another for picture editing.
Netflix declined to comment on Harris’ case.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
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