High-profile cheerleader Jerry Harris has been arrested and charged with production of child pornography after allegedly enticing a 13-year-old he met on Instagram to send him explicit photos and videos, even meeting up with the boy at a cheerleading event to solicit oral sex, federal authorities said Thursday.
Harris, the 21-year-old best known for appearing in Netflix’s Cheer docuseries, was charged with one count of producing child pornography, the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Illinois said.
Prosecutors allege that he befriended two twin teenage brothers online, both 13, and “repeatedly solicited child pornography images and videos” from both. A criminal complaint also details Harris’ encounters with three other minors that didn’t form the basis of the criminal charge, including a 15-year-old boy who Harris admitted having anal and oral sex with at a cheerleading event in 2019, and a 17-year-old boy who was paid $2,000-$3,000 by Harris to send photos and videos—and to eventually hide the evidence by blocking Harris on Snapchat.
The charges come after USA Today reported that Harris was under investigation by the FBI, and after a lawsuit was filed in Texas by two teenagers who accused him of sexual harassment.
A spokesperson for Harris told ABC News on Monday in relation to the lawsuit: “We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager. We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”
According to the criminal complaint, obtained by The Daily Beast, the mother of the twin boys—both competitive cheerleaders who travel to competitions and camps around the country—first learned of Harris’ alleged behavior after going through one of her sons’ cell phones.
The boy, identified in the criminal complaint as Minor 1, had sent Harris “over a dozen photographs and videos” between December 2018 and March 2020, including shots showing his “penis and anus.” In turn, Harris had allegedly sent the boy photos of his penis, as well as a video of him masturbating.
The boy told Harris he was just 13 when they first sparked up a conversation on Instagram, according to screenshots contained in the complaint. Harris replied, “Oh ok have any pics?”
The complaint states that Harris also FaceTimed the boy, asking him to perform cheerleading poses, to “bend over more” and to “show me ‘your butthole’.”
After the boy sent Harris a photo of him in a cheerleading pose, Harris allegedly asked him with a winky face: “Do it naked and take a video and show me.”
The boy later told authorities that Harris solicited oral sex in a bathroom during a cheerleading event in February 2019, but the boy didn’t go through with it, telling Harris “he was going to be late for warmups and had to go join his team.”
The teen said Harris again tried to meet up at another cheer competition they both attended, according to the complaint.
In an interview with investigators, the second twin said that Harris was “touchy” and did “odd things” to him and his brother. He said Harris had contacted him on Snapchat and tried to solicit nude photographs but he always refused.
Harris eventually blocked Minor 1 on Snapchat, telling him over text message that he didn’t think they should be friends anymore.
“I’m sorry for what I’ve done in the past. I don’t think it’s a good idea we be friends on Snap,” Harris said on Feb. 7, according to the complaint.
In an interview with investigators on Sept. 14, Harris admitted to asking the boy to send photos and videos through Snapchat, knowing that the boy was 13, the criminal complaint says.
“Minor 4 described Harris as relentless and asking for naked photos of Minor 4 for three straight hours”
— Criminal Complaint
The criminal complaint details three other minors who Harris allegedly solicited nude photographs from. One, identified as Minor 4, said he met Harris at a party over summer when he was 17. Harris added the teen on Snapchat, asked him for photographs, then blocked him when the teen refused. Two weeks later, Harris tried to contact him against on Snapchat for photographs, the complaint states.
“Minor 4 described Harris as relentless and asking for naked photos of Minor 4 for three straight hours,” the complaint says. “Minor 4 stated that Harris later offered Minor 4 money for naked photographs of Minor 4. Eventually Minor 4 agreed and Harris sent Minor 4 $100 through an electronic payment application as a sign of good faith.”
The complaint states that when the 17-year-old told his friend about his encounter with Harris, the friend agreed to take photos of himself. Over the course of their Snapchat relationship, Harris allegedly sent the Minor 4 between $2,000 and $3,000 for various things, including photos of Minor 4’s friend and a video call where Harris allegedly masturbated.
On Aug. 22, Harris allegedly sent the teenager “$500 to end the relationship and block Harris on Snapchat.”
Investigators learned of a fifth victim during interviews with Harris, when he admitted to talking to a then 13-year-old boy on Snapchat and later meeting up for sex at a cheerleading event in 2019, when the boy was 15.
The celebrity cheerleader also admitted to soliciting or receiving photos on Snapchat from “at least between 10 and 15 other individuals he knew were minors.”
Harris shot to fame last year as a fan favorite in the Netflix series about his cheerleading team at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. The 21-year-old, who also coached at National Cheerleaders Association camps, was beloved by viewers and his team members for his upbeat attitude and humility after not “making mat” for a major competition in Daytona.
Since the show, Harris has scored endorsement deals with Cheerios and Walmart and even made a guest appearance with other cast members on Oprah Winfrey’s national wellness tour. He held an Instagram chat with Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden in June.
On Monday, the FBI executed a search warrant at a Naperville, Illinois, home related to the investigation. The FBI investigation stemmed from allegations made by cheerleading industry giant Varsity Brands, which has banned Harris from any future public affiliation with the company.
According to USA Today, Varsity’s chief legal officer, Burton Brillhart, wrote an Aug. 1 letter to authorities in Florida and Texas that said the company had learned of “inappropriate sexual conduct” allegations involving Harris.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office told The Daily Beast on Thursday the federal investigation was ongoing, and they encouraged any potential victims to contact the FBI Chicago Field Office.