CHICAGO (CBS) — In a new filing Tuesday, federal prosecutors claimed that “Cheer” star Jerry Harris not only solicited sexually explicit images from underage boys, but also sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy.
The filing by the U.S. Attorney’s office asked to have Harris, 21, kept in federal custody rather than being released to his Naperville home.
As CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported, the feds will argue on Tuesday that Harris is too dangerous to be on the streets. In the nine-page filing, federal prosecutors described Harris as a sexual predator who used money, fame, and influence – stopping at nothing to get what he wants.
In this case, prosecutors said, what he wanted was young boys. He already faces child pornography charges.
The filing said Harris “exploited and violated” at least 10 minor boys over the past two years, by repeatedly asking the boys to send sexually explicit images of themselves. Prosecutors said Harris “targeted young boys by reaching into their bedrooms through his cell phone and used guilt, threats, and money to persuade them to engage in sexually explicit activity which Harris would oftentimes record and masturbate to.”
Harris also admitted to trying to meet all the victims in person, and kept it up even when he was tipped off about a possible investigation into his conduct, prosecutors said.
But law enforcement also recently interviewed another boy who said he was sexually assaulted by Harris inside an unlocked public restroom during a cheer event. The boy was 15 when Harris followed him into a bathroom and sexually assaulted him, prosecutors said.
“Harris’ sexual assault of this boy in such a public place, in an unlocked public bathroom, during an event attended by dozens of responsible adults demonstrates that Harris either does not care about being caught committing his offenses, or simply cannot stop himself,” prosecutors said.
The latest filing also reiterated prosecutors’ earlier charges against Harris. He is accused of contacting 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 known 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 of those 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 have 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.
Prosecutors said just weeks after getting rid of his cellphone, Harris used his new clean phone to reach out and victimize minor boys again.
Federal agents raided Harris’ Naperville home on Sept. 14.
“Harris’ actions of targeting young boys and exploiting them through multiple methods of manipulation demonstrates a habitual, persistent, obsessive course of conduct. It is certainly possible that Harris’ predatory actions are caused, in part, by mental illness or past traumas,” prosecutors wrote. “However, unless or until Harris receives long-term, intensive therapy to change his mindset and help to control his urges, his risk of recidivism will remain unacceptably high. Harris’ sexual assault of one minor victim in an unlocked public bathroom at a cheer event with other individuals coming and going again demonstrates such recklessness that either Harris wanted to be caught or he simply cannot control his impulses.”
Thus, prosecutors said, Harris should not be released to home confinement and should remain in federal custody.
Harris is considered a breakout star – a fan favorite on the Netflix show “Cheer.” He has more than 1 million Instagram followers. He even appeared with Oprah Winfrey.
He is also now currently charged with sexual exploitation of children, which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30, prosecutors said.
In a separate court filing, Harris requested to appear in court in person on Tuesday. He was originally expected just to call in.
Harris’ attorneys will try to make the argument for his release pending a trial. Part of the argument will be that Harris has asthma and is at risk for COVID-19 in jail.
FBI Chicago Field Office Special Agent-in-Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. said last month that a web page has been created at https://www.fbi.gov/jerryharris. On the website, victims can report contact with Harris and find additional victim resources.
Anyone can also report victimization by calling the Chicago Field Office at (312) 421-6700.