US Air Force general found guilty of abusive sexual contact
In the first-ever military trial of a U.S. Air Force general, Maj. Gen. William Cooley was convicted Saturday of forcible kissing but acquitted of two other charges.
| Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
An Air Force major general in Ohio has been convicted by a military judge of one of three specifications of abusive sexual contact in the first-ever military trial of an Air Force general.
The charge faced by Maj. Gen. William Cooley during the weeklong court-martial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio had three specifications, one alleging a forcible kiss and two alleging forcible touching in 2018. Cooley was convicted Saturday of the forcible kissing specification but acquitted of the other two.
Officials said the verdict marks the first court-martial trial and conviction of a general officer in the Air Force’s 75-year history.
A former commander of Air Force Research Laboratory, Cooley was charged with abusive sexual contact in an encounter with a woman who gave him a ride after a backyard barbecue in New Mexico nearly four years ago. Officials said the woman is a civilian who is not a Department of Defense employee.
Cooley was to be sentenced Monday morning. The Dayton Daily news reported that "Now after Saturday’s verdict, in terms of confinement, the maximum possible sentence is seven years per charge. An Air Force spokeswoman said Saturday that Cooley does not face loss of rank. It was not immediately clear Saturday what impact the conviction will have on Cooley’s career."
Cooley had the option of a trial by court member jurors or by military judge, and chose to have the case heard by the judge.
“Today marks the first time an Air Force general officer has been held responsible for his heinous actions,” the victim in the case said in a statement from her personal attorney, Ryan Guilds.
“Sometimes family members are the abusers, abusers who count on silence in order to wield their extensive power.”
Cooley’s sister-in-law cited Vanessa Guillén, an Army soldier who was murdered by a fellow soldier in 2020 while she was stationed in at Ford Hood, Texas, as an inspiration for her to pursue the charges.
“Hopefully,” Guilds said, continuing with his client’s statement, “this will not be as difficult for the next survivor.”
Cooley was fired from his research laboratory position in January 2020 after an Air Force investigation and has worked in an administrative job since then. A message seeking comment was left for his attorney Saturday.
“This case clearly demonstrates the commitment of Air Force leaders to fully investigate the facts and hold Airmen of any rank accountable for their actions when they fail to uphold Air Force standards,” Col. Eric Mejia, staff judge advocate for Air Force Materiel Command, said in a statement.
Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor of the Air Force and head of the organization Protect Our Defenders, told the Dayton Daily News that this likely marks the effective end of Cooley’s Air Force career. Christensen expects a commander will begin initiating a discharge process at some point in the future.
Officers cannot be reduced in rank in a court-martial sentencing, Christensen said. But he said the secretary of the Air Force can reduce Cooley in rank down one star, to brigadier general.