- A US Air Force general is being court-martialed for the first time in the history of the service.
- The charge is linked to allegations of sexual assault against a civilian during a 2018 off-duty incident.
- The Air Force said it is unclear at this time when the court-martial will take place.
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A US Air Force two-star general is facing court-martial in a first for the Air Force, the service said Wednesday.
A sexual assault charge against Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley, former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, has been referred to court-martial, Air Force Materiel Command said in a statement.
“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,” Gen. Arnold Bunch, the AFMC commander, said.
“I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision,” he added.
The sexual assault charge against the general is tied to an off-duty incident in 2018 in which Cooley allegedly made undesired sexual advances, specifically kissing and touching, toward a civilian woman in New Mexico, the Air Force said.
Cooley was fired from his position at the research lab in January of last year following an investigation into the incident, and he was charged under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice last November following further review. The case then proceeded to an Article 32 hearing in February, and now the general is headed to a court-martial.
Air Force Materiel Command spokesman Derek Kaufman, as well as the Air Force public affairs office, confirmed to Insider that this was the first time in Air Force history a general officer has faced this type of trial.
The Air Force emphasized in its statement on the decision to proceed to court-martial that just as is true for civilian trials, Cooley is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Insider was unable to reach Cooley’s legal team for comment.
The decision to refer Cooley to court-martial were first reported by Military.com.
Cooley is not the first Air Force general officer to face allegations of sexual misconduct, but none of those cases moved to a general court-martial. The Air Force declined to speculate on why this case is moving forward when others did not.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rachel VanLandingham, a former judge advocate who now teaches law, told Task & Purpose in November that general officers “don’t want to prosecute each other because it’s this old boy chummy network.” But that could be changing.
President Joe Biden’s secretary of defense, retired four-star general Lloyd Austin, has made combating sexual assault in the military a priority. One of his first acts after taking office was to order a review of how the military handles these kinds of cases.
As for Cooley’s case, “the Air Force trial judiciary will identify a senior military judge and coordinate timing and venue for the court-martial proceeding,” the Air Force explained, adding that “jurors, or court members, must either be officers of higher rank, or equivalent grade but with an earlier date of rank to the accused.”
Air Force public affairs officials told Insider that it is currently unclear exactly when the court-martial will take place.