Air Force General to Make History as First to Face Court Martial

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Lady of justice and gavel in a courtroom.

Maj. Gen. William Cooley of the United States Air Force will be the first general officer in the history of the branch to face a court-martial. Cooley, who previously headed the Air Force Research Laboratory, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

According to the Air Force Material Command, Cooley’s court-martial, while originally scheduled to take place on January 10, has been pushed back to April 18 due to COVID-19 concerns. 

While the chief of the Air Force Research Laboratory, Cooley is charged with allegedly making unwanted sexual advances on a female civilian while off duty on August 12, 2018. His alleged conduct includes kissing and touching the alleged victim. On January 15, 2020, Cooley was relieved of his command of the Air Force Research Laboratory and instead was to work as a special assistant to Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., the chief of the Air Force Material Command.

In February 2020, Cooley’s case moved to an Article 32 preliminary hearing at which it was recommended that the charges at hand be referred to a general court-martial. Gen. Bunch decided in April of the same year to take up the recommended action. While Cooley is certainly not the first service member in the Air Force to face allegations of sexual misconduct, he is the first to face court-martial. The other generals accused of the same were protected from court-martial by their colleagues at the top of the command. 

One of the major issues that has plagued this idea of sending leaders in the Air Force to court-martial is the fact that the jury members are required to be of equal or senior rank to the individual accused. Therefore, if the accused individual is extremely high-ranking, this can prove difficult. Additionally, if a jury member knows Cooley, has been involved in a sexual misconduct case, or has never spoken out in support of zero tolerance for sexual harassment or assault, it could be argued that he or she is biased or has an implicit bias. 

In light of the #metoo movement, sexual harassment and assault are now taken much more seriously in each branch of the military, the Air Force included. This may continue to lead to big changes for the first time in the Air Force’s 75-year history. 

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The U.S. Government has an interest in obtaining a conviction as soon as possible, as it does not wish to gain negative publicity about one of its service members. That is why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced military attorney as soon as possible.

If you are a military service member and have been charged with a crime under the UCMJ, the Court-Martial Law Division of Aviso Law LLC can help. We proudly serve our military members, who sacrifice so much for our country. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

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