CHICAGO (CBS) — Jerry Harris, one of the stars of Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” will remain in federal custody in Chicago, after his attorney told a federal judge on Monday they are still working on finding a “suitable residence” and for a person to serve as his third-party custodian if he is granted bail while awaiting trial on charges of producing child pornography.
Harris, 21, of Naperville, was arrested Thursday on child porn charges that accuse him of coercing underage boys to send him nude photos and videos of themselves, and in some cases soliciting them for sex.
During his first court hearing on Monday, Harris’ attorney told a federal judge they were not ready to argue for his release from custody, as they were still working to arrange for a “suitable residence” and a person to serve as a third-party custodian if Harris is granted bail. Harris waived a detention hearing for now, and will be allowed to come back to request bail once those arrangements have been made. Until then, he will remain in federal custody.
The Naperville resident – full name Jeremiah Harris – is accused specifically of luring two boys to send him sexual pictures. But the charges against him say he admitted doing the same to as many as 10 to 15 other children he met through cheerleading competitions.
“Cheer” is a docuseries that details competitive cheerleading, and it is in that atmosphere that Harris is accused of forming relationships with younger male cheerleaders and then exploiting them for child porn pictures and videos and in some cases, sex.
Federal prosecutors unraveled a disturbing pattern that went on for more than a year.
According to the charges, Harris contacted twin underage boys on social media apps, and repeatedly asked them to produce sexually explicit videos and photographs of themselves and send them to Harris. One of the boys agreed to send Harris naked pictures and videos of himself, but the other declined.
The boy who did send the images informed Harris during their initial online encounter that he was 13 years old, the federal complaint states. The complaint charges Harris with one count of producing child pornography.
Federal agents were tipped off by the mother of the victims, who found pornographic images and text messages with Harris on one of their phones. The boy told the mom, identified in the complaint as Individual A, that Harris had asked for the photos. The boy said he had sent more than a dozen photos of his genitals to Harris, and Harris had sent similar images of himself to the boy, the complaint alleges.
Court documents showed a text exchange where prosecutors said Harris messaged the boy and asked for photos, including “booty” pics.
Prosecutors also showed a young boy doing a cheerleading position know as “the needle.” They said a Snapchat account using Harris’ name asked the child to do it naked and take a video to show him.
In an interview with investigators, Harris admitted asking for the photos via Snapchat between December 2018 and March 2020, the complaint states. The child is a competitive cheerleader who also met Harris at a cheer event, where Harris asked for oral sex, according the the complaint. The boy refused.
The charges also accuse Harris of sending text messages to both boys, soliciting them for sex, but the boys declined.
Harris also admitted to soliciting and receiving child pornography on Snapchat from at least between 10 to 15 other individuals he knew were minors.
Investigators said in some cases, Harris paid his victims – up to $3,000 in one case. The complaint cites other incidents earlier this year in which Harris repeatedly asked for, and obtained, videos and images from a 17-year-old boy in exchange for money.
Federal agents raided Harris’ Naperville home on Sept. 14.
Harris is considered a breakout star – a fan favorite on the Netflix show “Cheer.” He has more than 1 million Instagram followers.
But the FBI confirmed to CBS 2 it conducted a court-authorized law enforcement action at the house in Naperville where neighbors said Harris now lives.
No one answered the door at the house, but neighbors said they noticed more than six vehicles where Harris’ red Jeep sat parked. USAToday reported earlier this week that the 21-year-old was being investigated for allegedly soliciting sex and explicit videos from minors.
Harris’ attorney did not stop to talk to the news media in court Thursday. Attorneys representing the twin boys said a parent had the courage to report Harris’ alleged conduct, and urged investigators to look into whether people overseeing cheer camps or other events could have stopped this and perhaps failed to do so.
When asked about Harris, a representative of Varsity Sports, one of Harris’ former employers, said they “continue to cooperate with authorities in their inquiries on this matter,” but could not comment further.
Netflix released a statement reading: “Like everyone we are shocked by this news. Any abuse of minors is a terrible crime and we respect the legal process.”
Harris is a Bolingbrook native who attended Waubonsie Valley High School.
Production of child pornography is punishable by a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years.