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Hearing delayed for Wright-Patt AFB general facing sex charge that could prompt court martial

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (Air Force/Released)

The Article 32 hearing against a former commander of Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) has been rescheduled to Feb. 8 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, an Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) spokesman confirmed Monday.

In the hearing, a military judge will review a sexual assault charge against Maj. Gen. William Cooley. Counsel for the defense and the accuser participate. The preliminary hearing had been scheduled to convene on Wednesday.

The case is not set to go to the court martial stage yet. After an investigation by the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), a charge and three specifications of violating Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military were brought against Cooley. Article 120 concerns sexual assault.

If a court martial proceeds against Cooley, it would be the first time a case involving an Air Force general has gone to court martial, according to the president of Protect Our Defenders, an organization which advocates for victims of sexual assault in the military.

Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force and the president of the group Protect Our Defenders, told the Dayton Daily News in November that if the Cooley case goes to court-martial, he will be the first general officer in Air Force history to do so.

“An Air Force general has never been court-martialed,” Christensen said at the time. “It’s a big deal that they’re doing this.”

“What it tells me is that the investigation has shown that the evidence is really strong, that he committed this offense,” he added.

Ten to fifteen years ago, a case like this might have resulted in a senior officer being encouraged to retire and leave the Air Force, Christensen told this news outlet. In today’s landscape, the Air Force is compelled to take these allegations seriously, he said.

“I think it’s a combination,” he said. “I think the evidence must be strong, and I think in today’s cultural environment — especially after Vanessa Guillén’s murder, and the ‘me too’ movement, finally made its way to the military — I think they can no longer discount strong evidence just because someone is a senior officer.”

Cooley led AFRL since May 2017. The lab employs about 10,000 military and civilian personnel, including directorates in several states.

General Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander of AFMC, relieved Cooley from command in January 2020 due “to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to alleged misconduct which is currently under investigation,” AFMC said at the time.

AFMC and AFRL are both headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

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