After being convicted last year of one specification of abusive sexual contact against his brother’s wife, a two-star general and a former commander of Air Force Research Laboratory will retire as a colonel, Air Force Materiel Command said Tuesday.
“Former Air Force Research Laboratory commander Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley will retire at the rank of colonel, effective June 1, 2023, following an officer grade determination by the secretary of the Air Force,” the command statement says. “Cooley was convicted by an April 2022 general court-martial for abusive sexual contact. The Department of the Air Force expects its leaders to embody our core values, and holds them accountable if they fall short of expectations.”
After a week-long court-martial at the 88th Air Base Wing headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in April 2022, an Air Force judge sentenced Cooley to a reprimand and an order to forfeit $10,910 of monthly pay for five months.
Air Force Judge Col. Christina Jimenez deliberated for some five hours on a Friday before recessing for the day and announcing the verdict as soon as the court opened the following morning.
The charge had three specifications involving how the high ranking officer was reported to have touched his sister-in-law after a Sunday evening backyard party in New Mexico in 2018 — forcing his tongue in her mouth, forcing her hand to his genitals and pushing his hand between her legs and cupping her breast, according to an Air Force charge sheet.
The judge found Cooley, 57, guilty of the first specification and not guilty of the latter two.
The commander of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at the time, Gen. Arnold Bunch, removed Cooley from command of Air Force Research Lab in January 2020.
At the time, Air Force officials did not specify what the allegations against Cooley were. But the action represented the removal of a significant officer by the highest ranking commander serving at Wright-Patterson. Both Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force Research Lab are headquartered at Wright-Patterson.
“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, on conclusion of last year’s court-martial.
“Sometimes family members are the abusers, abusers who count on silence in order to wield their extensive power,” Guilds added.
Josh Connolly, senior vice president of Protect Our Defenders — a non-profit organization that advocates for military victims of sexual abuse and rape — welcomed the news.
“I think there’s the perception and the reality within the military that the higher rank you are, the less accountable you will be held,” Connolly said Tuesday. “So this is a good outcome, but a very rare one.”
However, it’s too soon to tell if this outcome heralds a new era in the U.S. military, he added. Historically, this was the first time an Air Force general officer has been court-martialed.
“It’s too early to tell. And in fact, that two of the three allegations (against Cooley) he was acquitted on, troubles me potentially, from what I’ve heard of the fact pattern of the case,” Connolly said. “But it hopefully provides a meaningful signal to people.”
The woman in the case agreed to have her family relationship with Cooley identified in news reports, but she asked that she not be named.