Who Is William Cooley? Air Force Major General at Center of Historic Trial

Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley made grim history when was convicted of abusive sexual contact in what was the first-ever military trial of an Air Force general.

Cooley faced a charge with three specifications, one alleging a forcible kiss and two alleging forcible touching in 2018. The victim was his brother's wife.

He was convicted on Saturday of the forcible kissing specification, but acquitted of the other two following the week-long court martial at Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The major general faces up to seven years imprisonment, a dishonorable discharge, and the loss of his pay and benefits when he is sentenced on Monday.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley delivers remarks during a press conference inside the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on April 18, 2019. Wesley Farnsworth/U.S. Air Force via AP

Who Is William T. Cooley?

Cooley entered the Air Force through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program in 1988 and entered active duty in 1990, according to his biography on the Air Force website.

He has a degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He also completed a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Mexico and a PhD in engineering physics from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Cooley became the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2017, a role in which he was responsible for managing a $2.5 billion science and technology program and a further $2.3 billion in externally funded research and development, according to the Air Force.

But he was relieved from command by Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., commander of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), in January 2020 due to "a loss of confidence in his ability to lead" while the allegations of sexual assault against him were being investigated by the Office of Special Investigations, according to a news release.

Since then, he has served as a special assistant to Bunch and his duties have focused primarily on advancing AFMC's digital campaign. His honors include a Defense Superior Service Medal, a Bronze Star Medal, and a Legion of Merit.

"As Convening Authority, I want to say thank you," Bunch said in a statement following the trial's conclusion. "Thank you to everyone who supported this process for their due diligence in the pursuit of justice, and for doing everything possible to protect both the victim's rights and the rights of the accused to a fair trial."

The victim, Cooley's brother's wife, told the court that Cooley had asked for a ride after drinking at a barbecue in New Mexico in 2018.

During the ride, she said he told her that he had fantasized about having sex with her. She alleged that he pressed her up against the driver's side window of the car, forcibly kissed her and then groped her through her clothes.

The woman gave her permission for media reports to disclose the nature of her relationship to Cooley, her attorney Ryan Guilds told Newsweek.

"As this case proved out, sometimes family members are the abusers, abusers that count on silence in order to wield their abusive power," she said in a statement.

"The price for peace in my extended family was my silence, and that was too high a price to pay. Doing the right thing, speaking up, telling the truth, shouldn't be this hard. Hopefully it won't be this difficult for the next survivor."

She added that she pursued the case because her "daughters deserve a world, deserve a system, military or otherwise, where they never have to be complicit in a lie to protect a power structure, protect a predator.

"With today's actions, I hope that the world they live in is just a little safer."

Newsweek has contacted Cooley's attorney for comment.

Update 4/24/22, 9:05 a.m.: This article has been updated to add the victim's statement.