Court-Martial of Air Force 2-Star General Postponed Amid COVID Concerns

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 to include the new start date for the trial.

The court-martial of Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley Jr., former head of the Air Force Research Laboratory, is postponed until April 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is surging across the country. The trial was slated to begin Monday, Jan. 10, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Cooley faces a single count of abusive sexual contact, with three specifications, under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The charges stem from an Aug. 12, 2018, off-duty incident in Albuquerque, N.M., in which he is alleged to have made unwanted sexual advances toward a civilian. The civilian is not a military member or DOD employee, according to the Air Force.

Air Force Materiel Command boss Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. relieved Cooley of command Jan. 15, 2020, following the conclusion of an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. After reviewing the evidence and convening an Article 32 preliminary hearing, Bunch referred Cooley to stand trial in April 2021.

Cooley has remained on Active duty during this time, working as Bunch’s special assistant pending the start of his trial. He is the first Air Force general officer ever to be court-martialed for sexual assault, according to an Air Force spokesperson. If the trial goes to completion, he will also be the first to ever face a full court-martial proceeding; only a few general officers have previously been referred to court-martial for any charge.

Jury selection in Cooley’s court-martial is set to begin Monday. A court-martial in a non-capital case can have as few as five and as many as eight jurors. Because a fair trial calls for a jury of one’s peers, the jurors will presumably have to be general officers. An Army one-star’s trial on sex charges in 2014 featured a jury of five two-star generals.

Cooley’s unprecedented court-martial proceedings are slated to last up to 14 days, according to an Air Force release. It comes as the Air Force is specifically focused on lifting barriers to women and minority groups. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall expressed alarm in September 2021 after recent climate surveys found that one-third of all USAF women have reported sexual harassment. He promised to address the issue with urgency.