An Air Force two-star general who was convicted of abusive sexual contact in a court-martial last year will retire as a colonel, in a rare instance of knocking an officer down two ranks, the service announced Tuesday.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall chose to demote William Cooley, who was previously the head of the Air Force Research Laboratory, following the officer’s conviction on forcibly kissing his sister-in-law, according to a statement from Air Force Materiel Command. Cooley’s retirement will be effective Thursday.
“The Department of the Air Force expects its leaders to embody our core values, and holds them accountable if they fall short of expectations,” the command said in the statement.
Cooley, who was accused of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law after a family barbecue in 2018, was the first Air Force general ever to face a military trial. The case was seen as a sign of a slow but sure shift away from a military culture that allowed high-ranking officers to act with impunity.
Cooley was charged with three counts of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In the April 2022 court-martial, he was convicted on only one count of abusive sexual contact related to the accusation that he forcibly kissed his sister-in-law. The two counts he was found not guilty of related to allegations that he also groped her.
Demoting Cooley to colonel means he will now get less retirement pay than he would have received as a major general, an Air Force Materiel Command spokesperson confirmed to Military.com — a difference of tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Cooley, whose defense team maintained that the only thing that happened between him and his sister-in-law was a consensual kiss, appealed his case to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals. The court’s docket shows a hearing was scheduled for May 1.
The status of the appeal now that he is retiring is unclear. The civilian attorney who represented Cooley during his court-martial did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday.
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.