A sexual assault charge has been referred to general court-martial in the case of Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) said Wednesday.
AFMC Commander Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., the general court-martial convening authority in the case, referred one charge under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, including three specifications of sexual assault under Article 120 against Cooley. Article 120 concerns sexual assault.
It is 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.
“An Air Force general has never been court-martialed,” Don Christensen, president of Protect our Defenders, told the Dayton Daily News last year. “It’s a big deal that they’re doing this.”
Christensen, who served as chief prosecutor for the Air Force from 2010 to 2014, confirmed Wednesday that this is the first time in the Air Force’s nearly 74-year history that a general officer has been prosecuted.
“I think the external pressure that has been put on the military to take sexual assault more seriously is one of the reasons, probably the sole reason, this case has gone to trial,” he said. “They knew they couldn’t just let another general walk.”
“It shows the impact of advocacy,” he said.
Possible consequences, if Cooley is convicted, include confinement or dismissal, a measure equivalent to a dishonorable discharge, or some combination of the two, Christensen said.
Bunch relieved Cooley from command of AFRL in January 2020 following the accusations.
“After a comprehensive review of all of the evidence from the investigation and the Article 32 preliminary hearing, I’ve informed Maj. Gen. Cooley of my decision to move his case to general court-martial,” Bunch said in an announcement from AFMC. “I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision.”
The charge stems from an August 12, 2018 off-duty incident in Albuquerque, N.M., where Cooley allegedly made unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female. The woman is not a military member or DoD employee.
Following an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Bunch relieved Cooley of his command of the Air Force Research Laboratory January 15, 2020. Subsequently, Cooley has served as special assistant to Bunch, with duties focused on advancing the command’s Digital Campaign.
Last October, Bunch appointed Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., as authority to review evidence and make an initial disposition decision. In November, Kirkland preferred the charge against Cooley, setting up an Article 32 preliminary hearing, which convened at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on February 8 this year. AFMC and AFRL are headquartered at Wright-Patterson.
“During the proceeding, similar to a civilian grand jury, a senior military judge was appointed as the preliminary hearing officer to review the charges and testimony to determine if probable cause existed that the accused committed a UCMJ offense,” AFMC said.
The Air Force trial judiciary will identify a senior military judge and coordinate timing and venue for the court-martial proceeding, AFMC said.
Jurors, or court members, must either be officers of higher rank, or equivalent grade but with an earlier date of rank to the accused.
Cooley is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by competent legal authority.
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