The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago confirmed on Thursday that Jeremiah “Jerry” Harris, the breakout star from Netflix’s popular reality series, Cheer, was taken into custody on charges of production of child pornography.
According to CNN, which cited the criminal complaint, the 21-year-old Harris is accused of “enticing an underage boy to produce sexually explicit videos and photos of himself.” The charges come just days after an attorney filed a child sexual exploitation and abuse lawsuit in Texas on behalf of two victims.
As USA Today reported, the lawsuit claims Harris solicited sex, sent sexually explicit messages and asked for nude pictures from two 14-year-old twins. Harris was 19 at the time, the victims 13. The children met him while competing in national cheerleading competitions and were “star-struck” by Harris, a known and respected cheer personality and coach, according to the complaint. A report from BuzzFeed news includes screenshots from text conversations between Harris and the two boys, which were included in the suit. In one exchange, Harris allegedly asks the boy’s age. Once the boy responds that he is 13, asks for pictures, specifying he wants shots of the boy’s “booty” and face.
It’s unclear if the criminal complaint involves another alleged victim. According to US Weekly, Varsity Brands, the largest company in the U.S. providing competitive cheerleading and dance team products and services, reported Harris to police last year, accusing him of asking a boy to have sex with him at two Varsity competitions:
The brand’s chief legal officer, Burton Brillhart, wrote letters to authorities in Florida and Texas to convey that the company had “barred this person from having any affiliation with Varsity Brands or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates, now and in the future.”
Speaking to the lawsuit filed earlier this week, a legal representative for Harris told multiple outlets, “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.”
In a statement shared with CNN, a Netflix spokesperson said they, “like everyone,” are “shocked” by the allegations against Harris, who was one of the most popular personalities from the Cheer series. Since the show’s debut, Harris has spoken about being a role model for LGBTQ youth, and was even tapped to be an Academy Awards red carpet correspondent for the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“Any abuse of minors is a terrible crime and we respect the legal process,” the spokesperson said.
In a federal court in Chicago on Thursday, the government said Harris should remain in custody because he is a danger to the community, reports CNN. Harris’ attorney said they will push back and seek his release, arguing that Harris is asthmatic and therefore at risk for developing COVID-19.