On January 27, 2021, the Air Force will hold a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to send the case of Air Force Major General William Cooley to court-martial. This would be the first court-martial of a general officer in Air Force history.
General Cooley is accused of making “unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female.” He is charged with a single count of violating Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Sexual Assault). According to the charge, the alleged kiss happened in Albuquerque, NM in August 2018. The accuser is a civilian with no ties to the military.
After an initial investigation by the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), General Cooley was relieved of command of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in January 2020 due to a loss of confidence in the two-star General’s ability to lead. The AFRL is a scientific research organization dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of aerospace warfighting technologies as well as planning and executing the Air Force science and technology program.
The Article 32 preliminary hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury. In the military justice system, however, a single military judge will review the evidence and may call witnesses to determine whether probable cause exists that the accused officer committed a UCMJ offence. That judge will then provide a recommendation on disposition of any offenses supported by the evidence. This disposition could be a recommendation for a general court-martial.
A court-martial would set precedent, according to Don Christensen, a former top prosecutor for the Air Force. “An Air Force general has never been court-martialed,” Christensen said. “It’s a big deal that they’re doing this.”
Cooley’s attorney, Daniel Conway, refuted the allegations, saying the Air Force lacks evidence to support them, stating “On January 27th, we intend to show Gen. Cooley’s innocence using the accuser’s own words against the government,” referring to voicemail messages that the defense will present to demonstrate that the kiss was consensual and there was no unwanted touching. “This is not the case to seek precedent on, because the evidence is so weak,” he said. “There is a reason that general officers have not historically been charged,” Conway added. “Because for decades of their career, they’re screened for their high character. General-grade officers are confirmed by the Senate. These people who are confirmed general-grade officers are cut from the finest cloth.”
Maj. Gen Cooley is one of many senior officers across the services to be accused or sanctioned for sexual misconduct. According to USA TODAY, “since 2013, investigators have documented at least 500 cases of serious misconduct among generals, admirals, and senior civilians…almost half of the instances involved personal or ethical lapses, including adultery, sexual harassment and assault.”
Tim Nettles is a contributing writer on military matters. He is a retired Command Master Chief with over 27 years of active service. Bilecki Law Group has over 50 years of combined experience in military court-martial defense. For a consultation regarding a court martial, adverse administrative action or military law matter, please contact Bilecki Law Group at (808) 275-4620.