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Abusive sexual contact charge in first-ever Air Force general military trial

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WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AP) — An Air Force major general in Ohio has been found guilty by a military judge of one of three specifications of abusive sexual contact in the first-ever military trial of an Air Force general.

The charge against Maj. Gen. William Cooley at the week-long court-martial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio had three specifications, one alleging forced kissing and two alleging forced touching in 2018. Cooley was found guilty on Saturday of forcibly embracing the charges but acquitted of the other two.

Officials said the verdict marks the first court-martial and conviction of a general officer in the Air Force’s 75-year history.

A former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, Cooley was accused of abusive sexual touching during an encounter with a woman who took him after a backyard barbecue in New Mexico nearly four years ago. Officials said the woman is a civilian who is not an employee of the Department of Defense.

Cooley was due to be sentenced Monday morning and could face up to seven years in prison as well as loss of rank, pay and benefits.

Cooley had the option of trial by jurors from the court or by a military judge, and elected to have the case heard by the judge.

“Today marks the first time an Air Force general officer has been held accountable for his heinous acts,” the woman’s attorney, Ryan Guilds, said in a statement, reported by the Dayton Daily News. “…Let’s hope it won’t be so difficult for the next survivor.”

Cooley was fired from his research lab position in January 2020 after an Air Force investigation and has since held an administrative position. A message seeking comment was left for his lawyer on Saturday.

“This case clearly demonstrates the commitment of Air Force leaders to fully investigate the facts and hold Airmen of all ranks accountable for their actions when they fail to meet Air Force standards,” said Col. Eric Mejia, staff judge advocate for Air Force Materiel Command, said in a statement.

Need help? Visit RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website.

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