The FBI is currently investigating allegations that celebrity cheerleader, Jerry Harris, 21, solicited sexually explicit photos and sex from minors.
What We Know:
- On Monday afternoon, agents searched Harris’ home in Naperville, Illinois, as part of the investigation. “The FBI is conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity in the area,” Siobhan Johnson, FBI special agent and public affairs officer said but declined further comment. Harris, who gained national prominence when he was featured in Netflix’s recent docuseries, Cheer, has not been criminally charged.
- The criminal investigation is based on allegations from 14-year-old twin brothers. In an interview with USA TODAY, both boys described a pattern of harassment, both in-person at cheer competitions as well as online, stating that it started when they were 13 and Harris was 19. They also shared that it had occurred for over a year. Harris is accused of asking one of the brothers to have sex with him in 2019 at two Varsity cheerleading competitions.
“What everyone is seeing of Jerry Harris, from the outside view, from social media, is a completely different person from when you actually know him,” Charlie, one of the boys who has accused Harris of abuse, said: https://t.co/suElp0nAQQ pic.twitter.com/NyH0n81x04
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) September 15, 2020
- The allegations were additionally reported to police by Varsity Brands, a private company that dominates the cheerleading industry. On August 1st, in a series of letters to police in Florida and Texas, Varsity’s Chief Legal Officer Burton Brillhart said the company had learned of “inappropriate sexual conduct” allegations against Harris and was reporting the information to authorities as required by law. Brillhart went on to say, “we have barred this person from having any affiliation with Varsity Brands or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates, now and in the future.”
- The brothers, Charlie and Sam, whose last name is withheld as the boys are minors and alleging abuse, and their mother sat down with USA TODAY in August for an interview in their home. The family provided screenshots from five text and social media conversations between the boys and accounts they say belong to Harris. Several include messages explicitly requesting nude photos or sex. In one conversation on Snapchat, an account with the name “.jerry harris” responded to a photo of Charlie stretching his leg above his head. “Do it naked and take a video and show me,” Harris replied privately, according to a screenshot provided to USA TODAY.
- The family said that the FBI interviewed both boys on August 28th and Charlie again on September 11th. They said the agency had pulled data from their cellphones and requested documentation from competitions where they interacted with Harris. Charlie shared that the interactions with Harris left him struggling with anxiety. He said he lost sleep, cried at school, and watched his grades suffer.
“It was just eating me alive,” Charlie said. “It was just making me so gross and uncomfortable. Every time I saw his name or something like that, I was just cringing about it.”
- The allegations against Harris have been reported to at least four other law enforcement agencies in Texas and Florida as well as to the U.S. All-Star Federation, which governs the competitive cheerleading discipline in which Harris and the boys compete. The family said they filed two complaints with USASF, the first sent May 15th which received only a brief response from USASF Vice President of Membership Amy Clark, and a second on July 9th in which Clark called the family the next day.
- Court records show the family filed a lawsuit on Monday in Texas as well against Harris, Varsity, USASF, and the Cheer Athletics gym at which Harris has cheered. In the suit, the family accuses Harris of sexual misconduct and the cheer organizations of negligence and failures to protect the boys from abuse. It also claims Harris sexually exploited others in the cheer community. Attorney Sarah Klein, who represents the family, said she hopes the public will “let the truth play out” and not defend Harris simply because of his celebrity persona.
- Harris became the breakout star for Netflix’s Emmy nominated docu-series Cheer which follows Texas’ Navarro College cheerleaders in their quest for a national title. Harris attracted fans with his positive attitude as he is often seen on the sidelines, shouting encouragement at teammates as they practice difficult skills. Since the show premiered in January, Harris stood on a stage with Oprah Winfrey with a mic in hand, pumping up the crowd with his famous “mat talk,” interviewed celebrities on the red carpet of the Oscars for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and filmed a short video with former Vice President Joe Biden, encouraging young Black voters to turn out on Election Day.
- The boys claim their relationship and interactions with Harris began before the release of Cheer. Charlie said he was 13 when he randomly received an Instagram follow request from Harris, then 19, which he accepted despite not knowing Harris because he had just recently joined competitive cheerleading and knew of Harris. According to a screenshot of the interaction, during the first conversation, Harris asked how old he was and then, after learning he was 13, asked Charlie to send photos of his face and butt. Harris and Charlie also later connected on Snapchat which Charlie said that they used to speak often, including late at night, and that their conversations were “friendly but also sexual in nature”.
- Both brothers said Harris asked them for nude photos but said that Harris was more aggressive in conversations with Charlie. Charlie said he declined but Harris began pressuring him to reconsider and threatened to unfriend or block him if he didn’t comply. Eventually, Charlie said, he did what Harris asked. “I don’t like it when people are mad at me,” Charlie said. “So I was trying to please him any way I could.”
- In February 2019, Charlie said, Harris cornered him in a secluded bathroom at the American Cheerleaders Association’s national competition in Fort Worth and begged him to have sex. Harris was 19 and Charlie was 13 at the time. Harris’ Instagram account shows he attended that competition. Three months later, Charlie said Harris propositioned him again while they were at The Summit cheerleading competition in Orlando, Florida. The family provided screenshots of the text messages Charlie said he received from Harris.
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- The boys’ mother said she found the explicit messages on Charlie’s phone earlier this year and told him to immediately delete all of it, a decision she said she now regrets. Originally, she planned on leaving things alone and just moving forward, but she reconsidered that decision a few months later after the boys told her they both had been sexually assaulted by a cheerleading coach, Shaquille Brown, at a party in May. They reported it to police immediately and another athlete corroborated the story, witnessing the abuse. Brown was arrested in July for sexual assault of a child and has been suspended by U.S. All Star Federation. The situation with Brown made her realize the situation with Harris was not an isolated incident, and worried it was part of a pervasive problem in cheerleading.
- The boys shared they received massive pushback from both friends, fellow cheerleaders, and fans of the show when they decided to speak out. “I would not be putting myself out there and doing all this stuff and literally losing my friends about this for no reason,” Charlie said. “It is not normal. Jerry is just an example of how you can see someone as one way, but they’re truly a different person.”
- Harris released a statement denying the allegations. “We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager,” the spokesperson told Variety in a statement. “We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”
Netflix declined to comment on the Harris’ allegations. Find the full interview with Charlie and Sam as well as the screenshots provided by the family here.
Prosecutors Say R. Kelly Abused 17-Year-Old Boy
Prosecutors say that former R&B singer R.Kelly abused a 17-year-old boy in 2006 after meeting him at a Chicago McDonald’s.
What We Know:
- Lawyers claim that the singer, whose real name is Robert Kelly, initially offered to help the boy with his music career and invited him to his studio. After Kelly questioned the boy on what he would do to make it in the industry, Kelly propositioned and had sexual contact with the minor.
- The young boy also introduced his 16 or 17-year-old male friend to Kelly; the singer eventually began a relationship with this other boy. Prosecutors allege that Kelly filmed the two minors engaging in sexual acts with others, including some of Kelly’s girlfriends, including an under-aged female.
- In addition, when Kelly faced child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, the first boy told him he knew one of the jurors. Kelly proceeded to ask the boy to contact the juror and vouch that Kelly was a “good guy.” However, the prosecutors’ filings do not specify if the youth did so.
- Attorneys want judges to consider hearing this evidence during Kelly’s upcoming August trial. They believe this information will show that Kelly’s actions “were not isolated events and were part of a larger pattern.”
- The Grammy Award winner has faced scrutiny for his sexual behavior for a while. Currently, he faces charges for recruiting women and girls for sex and pornography and exercising control over them. These include child sexual exploitation, making indecent images of minors, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. According to lawyers, Kelly managed a “criminal enterprise” alongside managers, bodyguards, and other employees. These charges involve six different victims. In addition to the aforementioned sufferers, prosecutors want jurors to hear the stories of more than one dozen others who experienced sexual misconduct at the hands of Kelly.
Because of the accusations, Kelly has been in jail for two years while awaiting his day in court.
Gender Reveal Party Couple Face Jail Time over Deadly California Wildfire
A California couple whose gender reveal party allegedly started a deadly wildfire faces involuntary manslaughter charges and a lengthy stint in jail.
What We Know:
- Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr and Angela Renee Jimenez set off a smoke bomb during their gender reveal party back in September 2020 in Yucaipa, California. The “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” supposedly sparked the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County. Survallience footage showed the family light the smoke bomb at the edge of the El Dorado Ranch Park and was seen trying to put flames out. The wildfire burned over 22,000 acres, destroyed multiple homes and properties, and lasted more than two months.
- While trying to put out the fire, firefighter Charles Morton was killed, and many others were injured. Morton, 39, had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, 14 of them with the US Forest Service. US Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen stated that Morton was a “well-respected leader” and was always there for his crew.
- Refugio and Angela have been charged with 30 crimes: three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, four felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures, 22 misdemeanor counts, and one felony count of involuntary manslaughter. On Tuesday, the couple pleaded not guilty.
- During a news conference, Jason Anderson, San Bernardino County District Attorney, said that a grand jury heard 34 witnesses and saw 434 exhibits. He mentioned that the fire affected the community tremendously and that at least six different agencies “were involved in containing, extinguishing, and investigating” the wildfire.
“You’re obviously dealing with lost lives, you’re dealing with injured lives, and you’re dealing with people’s residences that were burned and their land that was burned. That encompasses a lot of, not only emotion, but damage, both financially and psychologically,” said Anderson
- Gender reveal parties are where couples find out the gender of their baby. They could cut into a cake and see if the inside is blue for a boy or pink for a girl, pop a big balloon to see the color of the confetti, or even do a song that reveals the gender at the end. Over the years, gender reveals have gotten more elaborate and dangerous.
- In February, a father-to-be died after the gender reveal device he was building exploded on him, and in 2017 a gender reveal party sparked a wildfire in Arizona, burning close to 47,000 acres. The expected father in that incident pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, was sentenced to five years of probation, and had to pay nearly $8.2 million in fines.
Refugio and Angela were released on their own recognizance and are set to return to court on September 15th. If found guilty, they could face up to 20 years in jail.
First Felony Sentence for January Insurrection Handed to Florida Man
What We Know:
- Paul Hodgkins, 38, pleaded guilty to a single count of obstructing an official proceeding last month. The crane operator, along with others, breached the US Capitol at the alledged request of former President Donald Trump. The former Commander in Chief held a rally where he said dangerous rhetoric about the election being rigged. He told his supporters to go to the Capitol, where they were counting electoral votes, and urge senators to overturn the presidential election results.
- Hodgkins was seen walking onto the Senate floor holding a red “Trump 2020” flag and wearing a Trump shirt. He went to Washington initially for the rally that was held near the White House. He stated that he had no idea that day would end with him storming the capitol and that he was caught up in “the passion of the day.”
- The US Justice Department considered the events of Jan. 6th as “acts of domestic terrorism.” They encouraged the judge to treat Hodgkins on the same level as those who are deemed domestic terrorists. Since Hodgkins took a plea deal, the government agency asked District Judge Randolph Moss to sentence him to 1.5 years in prison. Prosecutor Mona Sedky claimed that giving Hodgkins harsh sentencing would stop future people who planned on recreating the events of that day.
- In court on Monday, Hodgkins spoke for about 10 minutes on how “remorseful” he was and that he “regretted” his actions on that day. He believes that the riots caused great harm to the “country that he loves,” and he takes full responsibility for his part in it.
- Although Moss considered Hodgkins’ actions “utterly unacceptable,” he didn’t believe him a threat and stated how he didn’t have any previous criminal history. Moss sentenced Hodgkins to eight months in prison, two years on probation, and ordered him to pay $2,000 in damage fees.
“Hodgkins did some very bad things that day and caused some real damage to this country, but I don’t consider him to be a threat or see him as an evil person. This is a very bad episode in his life and a very bad episode in this country … some sentences will be far higher, and some will be far lower. This is what I believe is a fair sentence,” said Moss.
- Over 530 people have been charged since Jan. 6th, with the help of social media and surveillance cameras. Of that number, “165 accused of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers,” and over 50 charged with “using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.” According to CNN, 20 people have already pled guilty and are awaiting their sentencing, while two charged with misdemeanors have already been sentenced: one to six months and one to three years probation.
Many charged rioters are pushing the idea of going to trial as they believe they did nothing wrong. Hodgkins walked out of court happy with the results and will be allowed to self-surrender once he is informed of where he will carry out his 8-month sentence.
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