Cooley to face court-martial in historic first


WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — A sexual assault charge has been referred to general court-martial in the case of Air Force Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

General Court-Martial Convening Authority Gen. Arnold. W. Bunch Jr., Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) commander, referred one charge under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, AFMC said Wednesday. The charge includes three specifications of sexual assault under Article 120.

“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. “I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision.”

The case is historic for the military, as Cooley will become the first Air Force general to face a court-martial.

The charge stems from an off-duty incident on Aug. 12, 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Cooley allegedly made unwanted sexual advances against a female victim. The civilian victim, though known to Cooley, is not a military member or Department of Defense employee.

Bunch relieved Cooley of his AFRL command on Jan. 15, 2020, after an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Cooley has since served as special assistant to Bunch, with duties focused primarily on advancing the command’s digital campaign.

On Oct. 1, 2020, Bunch appointed Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., as authority to independently review all available evidence and make an initial disposition decision. In November, Kirkland preferred one charge under the UCMJ.

On Feb. 8, 2021 an Article 32 preliminary hearing convened at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a process similar to a civilian grand jury. Col. Charles Wiedie was appointed as preliminary hearing officer to review the charges and testimony to determine if probable cause existed that the accused committed a UCMJ offense. The preliminary hearing officer provided a written report with his disposition recommendation for the case to Bunch.

During the Article 32 hearing, Cooley’s lawyers allege that Cooley’s accuser is part of a “conspiracy” to end his career, while prosecutors argued that Cooley had been untruthful with the investigation and had sexually assaulted a female victim.

The Air Force did not specify a date for the court-martial. The Air Force trial judiciary will identify a senior military judge and coordinate time and place for the court-martial proceeding.

Jurors in the court-martial must either be officers of higher rank, or equivalent grade but with an earlier date of rank to the accused. As Cooley is a two-star general, his jurors will be generals of equal or greater rank themselves.

The Air Force emphasized that Cooley is “presumed innocent until proven otherwise by competent legal authority.”

By London Bishop

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Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.

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