Air Force General Found Guilty of Sexual Abuse in Historic Court-Martial

Air Force General
Air Force Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley.U.S. Air Force

The case of Air Force Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley is the first court-martial and conviction of a general officer in the military branch’s 74-year history.

A two-star Air Force general has been found guilty of sexual assault, marking the first court-martial and conviction of a general officer in the 74-year history of the military division.

Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley was ordered Tuesday to pay about $55,000 in fines and will receive a letter of reprimand from the court-martial convening authority, a judge ruled. 

He had faced a maximum sentence of seven years of confinement, separation from the military and loss of pay and benefits. Under the judge's order, Cooley will forfeit $10,910 of his monthly pay for five months.

On Saturday, Cooley was found guilty of forcibly kissing his sister-in-law after a family barbecue. He was acquitted on two other counts of abusive sexual contact involving accusations of forcing the victim to touch him over his clothes, and touching her breasts and genitals over her clothes, the Air Force said.

The woman was not named, but she did read a statement Monday before Cooley was sentenced, saying his unwanted advances were devastating.

The incident "robbed me of my safety" she said, and Cooley's "disgusting actions unmoored me."

"The cost to remain a member of our extended family was silence, secrecy and lies, all to protect him and his military position above all costs," she said.

"I trusted Bill, and he took that trust and exploited it, twisted it beyond recognition, marginalized me to others that I care about, lied to family members to cover the truth, and while I hoped and prayed for true contrition and lasting remorse, I don't feel I ever received that. I became despondent with this reality," she said.

At a barbecue on Aug. 12, 2018, Cooley had been drinking and asked his sister-in-law for a ride home, according to the victim's statement to Air Force officials. During the ride, the victim said Cooley talked about fantasies of having sex with her and "pressed her up against the driver’s side window, forcibly kissed and groped her through her clothes,” according to the statement.

The woman and her husband reported the assault to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in 2019, according to the military. In January 2020, Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr. removed Cooley from his job at the Air Force Research Laboratory, where he supervised some 6,000 people. He also oversaw billions of dollars used for research, science and technology programs, according to Cooley's professional biography.

Through her attorney, the victim said, “Hopefully it won’t be this difficult for the next survivor." She noted the verdict came two years after  Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén was killed, dismembered and burned by a fellow soldier who faced sexual harassment allegations.

"Vanessa Guillén’s spirit has been with me on this journey and while this process has been incredibly invasive not only for me but also my immediate family and closest friends, I know there are countless other people who have been silenced forever, like Vanessa, so staying silent was simply never an option,” she said.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed the latest defense spending bill, which included revisions to how the military handles sexual assault cases. The changes came after increased pressure from Congress and advocates for female service members. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, military commanders will no longer decide whether to prosecute cases involving sexual assault, murder, child pornography, domestic violence, kidnapping, stalking and other serious crimes.

Instead, the decisions will be made outside the chain of command, by independent military prosecutors. The new rules must be enacted within two years, the act says.

Ryan Guilds, the sister-in-law's attorney, told reporters after the sentencing that his client "will continue to have the pains of this for the rest of her life, and no sentence is going to eliminate that," reported

"No sentence is going to replace what happened. No sentence is going to overcome the pain that she and her family have endured and, candidly, the many other people connected with this case have endured," he said.

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