'Cheer' star Jerry Harris pleads not guilty to federal child pornography, sex charges

Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY
·3 min read

Celebrity cheerleader Jerry Harris, who rose to fame earlier this year on Netflix's docuseries "Cheer," has pleaded not guilty to federal child pornography charges.

Harris, 21, entered a not guilty plea on all seven counts of child sex, porn and other allegations on Dec. 17 during a telephone arraignment hearing, according to court records obtained by the Associated Press.

Earlier this month, Harris was charged with receiving and attempting to receive child pornography and four counts of using, persuading, inducing, and enticing a minor "to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct, and … transmitting a live visual depiction of such conduct." The acts, regarding five minors, allegedly took place in Naperville, Illinois, and Corsicana, Texas.

He also was charged with one count of using the internet in Orlando, Florida, to "persuade, induce, and entice" one of the minors to engage in sexual activity.

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Jerry Harris attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 9 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Jerry Harris attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 9 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Harris was originally arrested by the FBI in September and charged with sexual exploitation of children after he was investigated for soliciting photos and sex from minors.

According to federal court records, Harris previously admitted to agents that he solicited and received explicit messages on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 individuals he knew were minors, had sex with a 15-year-old at a cheerleading competition in 2019 and paid a 17-year-old money in exchange for nude photos.

The initial criminal investigation was based on allegations brought by twin brothers, then 14. In interviews with USA TODAY, the boys described a pattern of harassment, both online and at cheer competitions, that started when they were 13 and Harris was 19. They said it continued for more than a year.

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Jerry Harris from ‘Cheer’ under FBI investigation for allegedly soliciting sex from minors

On Sept. 17, the FBI executed a search warrant at Harris' Naperville home, outside Chicago.

Harris remains in federal custody while awaiting trial. U.S. District Court Judge Heather McShain made the ruling to keep Harris behind bars on Oct. 16, saying Harris lacks control over his urges and poses "a significant danger to the community." If convicted, he faces 15 to 30 years in federal prison.

Netflix's "Cheer" docuseries, which debuted Jan. 8, followed a national champion cheerleading team at a small-town Texas junior college. Harris became a fan favorite for his unwavering positivity, despite his difficult childhood.

He was a talk-show darling in the months after the show went viral, won a Critics' Choice Award for male star of the year, served as Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars correspondent and scored an invite to the coveted Vanity Fair Oscars party.

"My heart is shattered into a million pieces," Coach Monica Aldama, who competed in the latest season of "Dancing with the Stars," shared in a post to Instagram in September after Harris' news broke.

"I am devastated by this shocking, unexpected news. Our children must be protected from abuse and exploitation, and I'm praying hard for the victims and everyone affected. Please respect our privacy as our family mourns during this heartbreaking time."

Contributing: USA TODAY's Hannah Yasharoff, Anika Reed and The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Cheer's Jerry Harris pleads not guilty to child porn, sex charges