Major General William T. Cooley of the US Air Force guilty of sexual assault

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A two-star general in the U.S. Air Force was found guilty of sexual assault on Saturday, marking the first court-martial and sentencing of an officer in the military department’s 74-year history.

Major General William T. Cooley risks up to seven years in prison and dismissal from the Air Force for forcibly kissing a woman after a barbecue in Albuquerque in 2018. Cooley will be tried in a trial beginning Monday by Colonel Christina M. Jimenez, the senior military judge , who presided over the case at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

Cooley was accused of three counts of violent sexual contact with the woman – his sister-in-law – including kissing her “with the intent to satisfy his sexual desire”, forcing the victim to touch him over his clothes and touching her breasts and genitals over her clothes , according to a press release from the Air Force. Cooley was not convicted of the latter two charges. His lawyer did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment late Sunday.

“This case clearly demonstrates the obligation of Air Force leaders to fully investigate the facts and hold pilots of any rank accountable for their actions when they fail to comply with Air Force standards,” said Colonel Eric Mejia, Chief Justice of Cooley’s Command. the release.

The courts of war are litigation for members of the armed forces accused of committing serious crimes. Those sentenced to incarceration are serving sentences in military prisons.

Cooleys the verdict comes months after the president Biden signed most recent the bill on defense spending, which contained amendments regarding the military’s handling of sexual assault-related prosecutions after years of increasing pressure from Congress. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, within two years, commanders will no longer have the power to decide that members of the military service are charged with murder, sexual assault, child pornography, domestic violence, kidnapping, stalking, and other serious crimes. Instead, the decision will go to independent military prosecutors.

Reported cases of sexual assault are rising at military academies despite preventive efforts

An annual report of sexual assaults in the military recorded 6,290 reported incidents in the fiscal year 2020, a slight increase from 6,236 in the fiscal year 2019. About 255 of these cases were put to trial in 2020, and 156 of them resulted in a conviction, according to the report.

Cooley, whose career with the Air Force began in 1988, was the first officer in the history of his service to be prosecuted. The verdict broke an “impenetrable barrier” that historically protected high-ranking officers from the consequences of inappropriate behavior, according to Rachel VanLandingham, a professor at Southwestern Law School and former Air Force judge lawyer.

“The stars on your shoulder are no longer a shield against criminal behavior,” VanLandingham told The Post, adding that the verdict also sends a deterrent message that regardless of your rank, “sexual assault will not be tolerated in the United States Air Force. longer – and it’s been a long time coming. “

Cooley had been drinking at a barbecue on August 12, 2018, when he asked his sister-in-law, who was also at the event, for a trip home. During the car ride, the victim said Cooley talked about her fantasies about having sex with her. She said he also “pushed her up against the driver’s side window, forcibly kissed and groped her through her clothes,” according to the press release.

In Congress, the momentum behind efforts to revise military handling of sex crimes is growing

The woman and her husband reported the assault to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in December 2019, according to the service. The following month, General Arnold W. Bunch Jr. removed. Cooley from his position at the Air Force Research Laboratory, where he supervised about 6,000 people and managed billions of dollars for research and science and technology programs, according to his biography. He was reassigned as Bunch’s Special Assistant.

Cooley’s case was referred to the court-martial in April 2021. He pleaded not guilty.

The victim, who does not want to be publicly identified, said in a statement through his attorney that reporting an assault “should not be so difficult.”

“Hopefully it won’t be that difficult for the next survivor,” she said.

The victim also noted that the sentence fell exactly two years and a day after the death of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army who was killed before being parted and burned by a man facing charges of sexual harassment .

“Vanessa Guillen’s spirit has been with me on this journey, and although this process has been incredibly invasive not only for me but also for my immediate family and closest friends, I know there are countless other people who have been silenced. forever, like Vanessa, so being quiet was simply never an option, ”she said.

Guille’s death, along with the #MeToo movement and pressure from Congress, laid the groundwork for prosecutors to secure a conviction against Cooley, VanLandingham said.

“I’m not happy to see this result because there is a victim and the Air Force is also a victim of his offense,” VanLandingham said. “But it’s good to see that the system is finally willing to hold a senior officer to account for this kind of behavior.”

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