Jerry Harris, former star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges of receiving child pornography and soliciting sex from minors that could keep him in prison for several years.
Harris, 22, was indicted in December 2020 on numerous charges alleging he received and attempted to receive child pornography and persuaded minors to engage in sexual contact. Prosecutors said the alleged acts involved victims in Florida, Illinois and Texas from August 2017 to August 2020.
During the change of plea hearing took place Thursday afternoon, February 10, before a U.S. District Judge, Manish Shah, pleaded guilty to two of seven felony counts against him, one for persuading a 17-year-old to send him sexually explicit photographs for money and the other stemming from a trip he took to Florida for the purpose of “engaging in illicit sexual conduct” with a 15-year-old. Prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining five counts under a plea agreement.
Harris, who is from the Chicago suburb of Naperville, was arrested in September 2020 on a charge of production of child pornography. Prosecutors alleged at the time that he solicited videos and images from two 14-year-old brothers.
According to a complaint, federal prosecutors said that Harris admitted to repeatedly asking a minor teen for pornographic videos and images between December 2018 and March 2020.
Then in December of that year, he was indicted on more charges alleging misconduct in Illinois, Florida and Texas. According to the indictment, Harris allegedly solicited sex from minors at cheerleading competitions and convinced teenage boys to send him obscene photographs and videos of themselves.
Harris admitted to FBI agents to asking a teenage boy to send him lewd photographs of himself, and to requesting child pornography on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 others he knew to be minors, according to the indictment.
“Mr. Harris, at least in part, stepped up and has taken responsibility for what he’s done,” said Saul Wolf, an attorney for the victims. “Those enablers who allowed this to happen need to step up and do the same and take responsibility and to they are held accountable.”
“Cheer” was a huge success when it was released in January 2020 and Harris became wildly popular for his upbeat attitude and his encouraging “mat talk.” Harris even interviewed celebrities on the red carpet at the Academy Awards for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
Harris’ attorney Todd Pugh released the following statement Thursday:
Jerry Harris has entered a plea of guilty today because he wishes to take responsibility for his actions and publicly convey his remorse for the harm he has caused the victims in this case. Jerry is a 22-year-old young man whose story can only be understood though the lens of the extreme poverty, sexual abuse, and neglect of his childhood. The criminal conduct in this case also took place in the context of a competitive Cheer Community where inappropriately sexualizing and sexually abusing children was far too common and too often overlooked. Jerry was himself exploited, manipulated, and sexually abused as a child within the Cheer Community in a way that perversely made him believe that this sexual conduct was somehow normal when it was not.
There being no safe harbor to discuss his exploitation, Jerry instead masked his trauma and put on the bright face and infectious smile that the world came to know. As we now know, Jerry became an offender himself as an older teenager. Since his incarceration, Jerry has actively sought out and is participating in mental health treatment and therapy both for his conduct and the diagnosed trauma disorders for which he suffers. With his plea of guilty, Jerry will spend the rest of his life making amends for what he has done. His hope is that he can demonstrate to those harmed by his conduct that he can one day earn back his value to them as a human being and that as he continues to become an adult, he can indeed make a contribution that matters.
U.S. All Star Federation, which was named in a civil lawsuit, released this statement Thursday:
The USASF’s mission promotes all aspects of athlete safety. The USASF deplores any allegations of sexual abuse of our athletes. We endeavor to support victims with proper processes. We are committed to this mission each day for our athletes.
Varsity Spirit, which is also named in the civil suit, released this statement Thursday:
Varsity Spirit is deeply saddened by Mr. Harris’ conduct and the impact it has had on the athletes. We are also thankful to law enforcement for the hard work and determination in bringing this matter to closure. Varsity Spirit’s action to promptly inform law enforcement is a matter of public record and we continue to practice vigilance in support of a safe cheer community.