Chicago-area native Jerry Harris rocketed to fame earlier this year as the breakout star of the Netflix docuseries “Cheer,” parlaying his contagious exuberance into talk show appearances, an Oscars gig and more than a million Instagram followers.
But the young star’s image was shattered Thursday when FBI agents arrested him 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.
Harris, 21, of Naperville, was charged in a criminal complaint with one count of production of child pornography, which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison upon conviction.
Harris made his initial court appearance Thursday afternoon at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, walking into the courtroom wearing a disposable face mask, red shirt and gray pants. He then stood next to his lawyer with his hands behind his back. Federal agents stood nearby.
Prosecutors told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman they want Harris held without bond pending trial because he is a danger to the community and is accused of crimes of violence against children.
Harris’ lawyer said he intends to argue for his release, in part because Harris has asthma and uses an inhaler and is at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 behind bars.
Harris was ordered to remain in custody pending another hearing scheduled for Monday.
After Thursday’s 10-minute hearing was over, Harris kept his eyes to the ground as he was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom. His lawyer, Todd Pugh, had no comment as he left the courthouse.
The criminal charges appear to be related to a lawsuit filed in Texas this week by two teenagers who accused him of “sexual harassment, exploitation, manipulation, intimidation and sexual abuse.” Harris has denied those allegations through a spokesperson.
“We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager,” the statement read. “We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”
A manager for Harris could not immediately be reached.
“Like everyone we are shocked by this news,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “Any abuse of minors is a terrible crime and we respect the legal process.”