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Air Force general charged with sexual assault

A military court early next year will take up the case of a two-star Air Force officer charged with sexual assault, the service announced Tuesday.

Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley was charged with one count of sexual assault following an incident on Aug. 12, 2018, when he “allegedly made unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female victim,” according to an Air Force statement.

The reported incident, which took place when Cooley was off duty in Albuquerque, N.M., involved a civilian woman who is not a military member or Defense Department employee.

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Cooley will now face an Article 32 preliminary hearing on Jan. 27. At the hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, a senior military judge will review the evidence and could potentially send the case to a court-martial.

No Air Force general officer has been court-martialed in the service’s history.

An Air Force spokesman said Cooley wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Cooley on Jan. 15 was relieved of his command of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

He was reassigned as special assistant to Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Arnold Bunch, who relieved Cooley due to "a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to alleged misconduct.”

Bunch then 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.”

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Kirkland on Oct. 29 recommended the sexual assault charge in violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice “after reviewing the facts of the case, including evidence noted in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations Report of Investigation and consulting with legal authorities."

Cooley marks the latest senior military officer to be accused of sexual misconduct.

In October, a federal judge ruled that the sexual assault case against the joint chiefs of staff vice chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, may proceed despite Hyten’s claim that his military service prevented him from being sued. 

Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser has accused Hyten of making repeated unwanted sexual advances against her between February 2017 and February 2018. The accusations came after he was nominated in 2019 to be the Pentagon’s No. 2 military official.

Hyten has denied the accusations against him and has filed a motion for the case to not continue, citing the Feres Doctrine, which prevents federal service members from being sued in civil court. 

And in 2017, the Air Force stripped retired four-star Gen. Arthuer Lichte of two stars and cut his pension after finding that he had coerced a subordinate officer for sex. Lichte has denied the allegations.