WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AP) — An Air Force major general in Ohio who was convicted on one of three specifications of an abusive sexual contact charge was told Tuesday he would receive a reprimand and must forfeit $10,910 of monthly pay for five months.
Maj. Gen. William Cooley, 56, was found guilty Saturday in what was the first-ever military trial of an Air Force general.
The weeklong court-martial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio had three specifications, one accusing Cooley of a forcible kiss and two alleging forcible touching in 2018. Cooley was convicted of the forcible kissing specification but acquitted of the other two.
Cooley had the option of a trial by court member jurors or by military judge, and chose to have the case heard by the judge. He had faced a maximum punishment of dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for seven years.
Speaking after the sentencing hearing, Cooley’s civilian attorney, Dan Conway, told The Dayton Daily News that his client is “very thankful for the judge’s compassion here.” Conway said the punishment was “a very significant sentence,” and he said a letter of reprimand may have implications in terms of the rank at which Cooley will be allowed to retire, if he chooses to do so.
A former commander of Air Force Research Laboratory, Cooley was fired from that post in January 2020 after an Air Force investigation and has worked in an administrative job since then. Conway said it’s still Cooley’s hope that he may continue serving in the Air Force.
Officials said the verdict marked the first court-martial trial and conviction of a general officer in the Air Force’s 75-year history. Cooley’s monthly pay is $15,966, so the total financial penalty against him reaches nearly $55,000.
“If this result influenced just one survivor to know that his or her attacker’s rank or status would not prevent them from being held accountable, that is a win for the United States and the military justice system,” Lt. Col. Matthew Neil, who served as lead prosecutor, said Tuesday.
Cooley was charged with abusive sexual contact in an encounter with a woman who gave him a ride after a backyard barbecue in New Mexico nearly four years ago. Officials said the woman is a civilian who is not a Department of Defense employee.
In a statement issued after the verdict was handed down Saturday, the woman’s attorney Ryan Guilds, said the ruling “marks the first time an Air Force general officer has been held responsible for his heinous actions … Hopefully, this will not be as difficult for the next survivor.”