A United States Air Force Major General was found guilty of sexual abuse against a woman. Maj. Gen. William Cooley was convicted on Saturday for forcibly kissing his sister-in-law at a family barbecue in New Mexico in 2018. This marks the first court-martial trial and conviction of a Major General in the US Air Force.
The case was decided by a judge rather than a jury as per Cooley’s request. The trial happened at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, led by senior military judge Col. Christina M. Jimenez.
The general faced a total of three charges. Maj. Gen. William Cooley pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial. One charge was for allegedly causing the victim to touch him over his clothing, and the other for touching the victim’s private parts through her clothes. He was acquitted of these two charges. However, he was found guilty by Judge Col. Christina M. Jimenez of one count of abuse of sexual contact.
Maj. Gen. William Cooley’s sentencing is scheduled to begin this Monday. The two-star general may face up to seven years of imprisonment, dismissal from the military, and loss of pay and benefits.
“Today marks the first time an Air Force general officer is finally being held accountable for his heinous actions,” said the unnamed victim in a statement. She insisted on not letting her name be disclosed but consented to reveal her relationship with Maj. Gen. William Cooley.
Cooley’s conviction marked the first time criminal charges against a general reached a court-martial in the Air Force’s 75-year history.
“The price for peace in my extended family was my silence, and that price was too high,” the victim said in a statement read by her lawyer Ryan Guilds. “Doing the right thing, speaking up, telling the truth, shouldn’t be this hard. Hopefully, it won’t be this difficult for the next survivor,” the readout further wrote.
News of Maj. Gen. William Cooley’s conviction came as the congress mandated revisions in the military justice system that lawmakers and advocates hope will encourage more prosecutions.
Guilds says that such changes over the past decade have made the experience of speaking out less terrifying for victims of sexual abuse by military service people. The lawyer added that his client’s win today provides “a hopeful sign” for future victims.
“The reality, though, is that every survivor who decides to come forward and make that brave choice is going to confront a justice system that is going to be very challenging,” Guilds said.
“In this case, it’s taken years to get where she is today, and I wouldn’t wish that journey on anyone,” he added.
Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rachel VanLandingham said that Cooley’s trial indicates the willingness of the military branch to hold its members accountable at all levels.
“This case strongly demonstrates that rank in the Air Force is no longer a shield for criminality and that there will no longer be impunity for general officer misconduct – and not just sexual assault but any type of misconduct,” VanLandingham said.
Who Exactly is Major General Cooley?
Maj. Gen. William Cooley is the current Special Assistant to the Commander of Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Before that, he was the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory. There, he managed a $2.5 billion research program which received further funding of $2.3 billion from external sources. During that time, he led over 6,000 Air Force personnel across the laboratory’s nine directorates and the 711th Human Performance Wing.
Cooley was relieved of his position from the research laboratory by Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. because of “a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to the alleged misconduct which was then under investigation.”
After an evening family barbecue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on August 12, 2018, an intoxicated Gen. Cooley asked his sister-in-law for a ride. During the car ride, the general told the victim that “he fantasized about having sex with her.”
According to the victim, Cooley pressed her up against the driver’s side window, kissed her without her consent, and groped her with her clothes on. She added that the general tried to pull her hand over his crotch.
“Some may ask, why didn’t [she] scream out to her husband when she got out of the car? Why didn’t she scream about what happened? Why didn’t she yell for help?” Lt. Col. Matthew Neil said. He presented the closing argument for the prosecution.
“Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to judge her now, but nobody knows how they’re going to react in that situation until they are faced with it,” he added.
The defense revolved around a voicemail the victim sent to Cooley a few days after the incident, where she mentioned that her husband “knows we kissed.”
The defense tried to argue that the voicemail proves that the kiss was consensual. They cited the victim’s marriage woes in 2016, saying that she was afraid to let her husband know that the two consensually kissed.
“This case begins and ends with this voicemail,” Maj. Shea Hoxie said during the closing argument for the defense.
The victim “said on the stand that her biggest regret, in this case, was that voicemail. That is her biggest regret in this case because she accidentally memorialized the truth,” Hoxie added.
Cooley opted not to testify in his own defense and confirmed to Jimenez that it was a personal choice not to testify.