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Former commander to face court-martial charge

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

A sexual assault charge has been referred to general court-martial in the case of Air Force Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley.

The General Court-Martial Convening Authority, Gen. Arnold. W. Bunch, Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander, referred one charge under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, including three specifications of sexual assault under Article 120.

“After a comprehensive review of all of the evidence from the investigation and the Article 32 preliminary hearing, I’ve informed Maj. Gen. Cooley of my decision to move his case to general court-martial,” Bunch said.  “I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision.”

The charge stems from an August 12, 2018 off-duty incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Cooley allegedly made unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female victim.  The civilian victim is not a military member or DoD employee.

Following an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Bunch relieved Cooley of his command of the Air Force Research Laboratory January 15, 2020.  Subsequently, Cooley has served as special assistant to Bunch, with duties focused primarily on advancing the command’s Digital Campaign.

On October 1, 2020, Bunch appointed Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, as authority to independently review all available evidence and make an initial disposition decision.  In November, Kirkland preferred one charge under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, including three specifications of sexual assault under Article 120.

An Article 32 preliminary hearing convened at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on February 8, 2021.  During the proceeding, similar to a civilian grand jury, a senior military judge was appointed as the Preliminary Hearing Officer to review the charges and testimony to determine if probable cause existed that the accused committed a UCMJ offense.  The Preliminary Hearing Officer provided a written report with his disposition recommendation for the case to Bunch.

The Air Force trial judiciary will identify a senior military judge and coordinate timing and venue for the court-martial proceeding.  Jurors, or court members, must either be officers of higher rank, or equivalent grade but with an earlier date of rank to the accused.

Just as in civilian criminal proceedings, Cooley is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by competent legal authority.