Jerry Harris, the breakout star of the Netflix docuseries “Cheer,” is a sexual predator who used his fame to continue to victimize young boys even after learning he was under investigation, federal prosecutors said Tuesday in asking that Harris be denied bond.
Harris, 21, of Naperville, has been in federal custody since his arrest last month 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.
Federal prosecutors made their latest filing ahead of a detention hearing in the case set for Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Heather McShain.
Harris' attorneys have not yet addressed the charges directly, and he has not entered a plea in the case. He has denied similar allegations made in a civil suit through a spokesperson.
His lawyers are asking a federal judge to release Harris on home detention pending trial, arguing he suffers from asthma and is at risk for COVID-19 in jail.
But in their memo filed Tuesday with the court, prosecutors said Harris’ plan to have a “cheer mom” act as third-party custodian assigned to watch over him while he’s at home does little to counterbalance the danger Harris poses to the community.
“If a full gymnasium of cheer mom and dads is not enough to deter Harris from committing these crimes, a single cheer mom will have no chance at protecting the community from Harris,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente wrote.
The motion describes in detail how Harris allegedly began grooming one victim when the boy was just 13 years old. The boy told investigators in a recent interview that when he was 15, Harris followed him into a public bathroom at a cheerleading event and sexually assaulted him, the filing stated.
“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,” Parente wrote.
The filing also alleged for the first time that after Harris was tipped off by the owner of a gymnasium who’d been interviewed by law enforcement, he destroyed his cell phone and acquired a new “clean” phone "to continue to reach out and victimize minor boys.”
The U.S. attorney’s office has said its investigation is ongoing, and any other potential victims were encouraged to contact the FBI Chicago field office.
Born in Hinsdale and raised in Bolingbrook, Harris rose to fame on the Emmy-winning “Cheer,” which premiered in January. The docuseries follows the competitive cheerleading squad at Navarro College in Texas.
Harris graduated in 2017 from Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, where he was a standout student, and studied at Navarro.
Viewers and celebrities took note of the way he enthusiastically motivated his fellow cheerleaders while they performed stunts, also known as “mat talking.”
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.
In the motion Tuesday, prosecutors said that as Harris' fame grew, he “added to his predatory arsenal by using money to exploit his minor victims.”
Harris offered his most recent victims “substantial sums of money, sometime over $1,000,” to perform sexually explicit acts for Harris over Snapchat or FaceTime, Parente said.
After the FBI raided Harris' Naperville home in September, 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 pornography on Snapchat from “at least between 10 to 15 other individuals he knew were minors.”