Convicted Air Force General Loses Two Stars, To Retire as Colonel After Sexual Misconduct
Protect Our Defenders Legal Services Program provided pro bono legal assistance to the survivor in the case against Gen. Cooley, marking the first time an Air Force general officer has been held accountable for sexual misconduct
Washington, DC – Today, Air Force announced Air Force Major General William Cooley’s retirement as colonel and loss of two stars after being convicted of sexual abuse against his brother’s wife last year. Protect Our Defenders (POD) worked with the survivor through its Legal Services Network to provide pro bono representation and bring Cooley to justice. This is the first time in history an Air Force general officer has been convicted, sentenced and held accountable for sexual misconduct, highlighting the military justice system’s persistent shortcomings in effectively penalizing senior leadership. POD commends the bravery of the survivor, who persevered through years of delays in the pursuit of justice.
This news comes in light of the Department of Defense’s most recent annual report, which found that military sexual assault reports increased in 2022. POD remains steadfast in its demand for accountability of abusers.
Protect Our Defenders Senior Vice President, Josh Connolly, former Chief of Staff for Rep. Jackie Speier (former Chairwoman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee), released the following statement:
“There has been a perception and reality within our armed forces that the application of justice is different depending on your rank or race. Although this decision resulted in accountability for a high ranking member of the Air Force, accountability is otherwise all too rare. Our service members deserve a justice system that treats everyone equally under the law and is blind to rank or race. We are still a long way from that. Protect Our Defenders will continue to fight for every service member to be treated equally and fairly under the law.”
The victim in United States v. Major General William T. Cooley HQ Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), released the following statement after his conviction last year:
“On August 12, 2018, as I had done countless times before, I welcomed Bill to my home. I offered him a place to stay, offered him food and drink, and ensured that he felt safe, respected, and trusted, because, until then, he was. I allowed him into my home. My home, that was full of love and friendship. My home where I raised my children.
“But on that same day, in MY home, in MY car, Bill targeted me, isolated me, and attacked me. Bill robbed me of my safety, objectified me, disrespected me and my family, and forever destroyed all trust I ever had in him. In my own home, my safe space, my safe haven, I was unable to trust the man my husband considered his closest brother, friend, and confidante with my own safety and well-being.
“On August 12, Bill humiliated me, and his actions continued to negatively impact me for almost four more years. Never did I imagine that the privacy and security that I value so much would be stripped from me, almost overnight. I’ve had to share the details of that horrific night more times than I can count with not only friends and other family members but with complete strangers and now the world. He stole my agency. My ability to tell my story to who I wanted, when I wanted.
“Before August 12, and in my own home, I was able to let my guard down, around people I trusted, people like Bill. Before August 12, I believed that Bill was safe, that he was respectful and fair and that he honored implicit boundaries. I am crushed that in trusting him, he exploited that trust in the most heinous and despicable of ways. I lost hope in fairness, justice, and even the goodness of people. His disgusting actions unmoored me. I went from being his sister-in-law, a member of his family for almost 30 years, to his victim. And, in my eyes, he became a predator, a title he will bear for the rest of his life.
“Following his attack, I lost work, I lost friends and other family members. Bill’s actions impacted all key relationships in my life, especially with my spouse, his brother. As you have heard, Tom and I didn’t want to be here. We didn’t want to put ourselves and our families through this. We wanted Bill to get help, to get better. We tried, repeatedly, to heal from the most horrific pain caused by Bill’s cowardly actions. It became agonizing – the impossible position he placed us in – report someone we love — knowing full well the very real consequences for both him and our families, or continue to allow a man who assaulted me, to get away with it.
“I felt like a hypocrite training audiences on creating harassment-free environments and encouraging others to report harassment and assault without fear, when I myself was the victim of assault and initially elected not to report my attacker. For months, I felt like a fraud to my clients. But most importantly, I felt like a fraud to my amazing daughters. What was I role modeling if I didn’t speak up for myself? In staying quiet, I was perpetuating a cycle of abuse that I had taught my daughters to always stand up against.
“The weight of his cruelty became nearly unbearable some days, impacting my ability to function. I had trouble sleeping. I would lie awake at night, reliving the horror he put me through and asking myself why. Why me? Why us? These questions morphed into doubting myself and my actions. I started asking myself whether I could have done anything to prevent this, blaming myself for something that obviously wasn’t my fault. As I’ve stated from the very beginning, my only fault was trusting my brother-in-law.
“Bill not only assaulted me, but he worked tirelessly to shift responsibility to me. The cost to remain a member of our extended family was silence, secrecy, and lies – all to protect him and his military position above all costs. Bill’s lies about the assault tried to reduce my worth to that of someone with no integrity, no moral compass, no understanding of right versus wrong.
“Bill’s lack of action in taking genuine responsibility and getting help, his egregious behavior, his lies to family and friends and lack of remorse for the damage he had caused simply became too much to bear. I trusted Bill and he took that trust and exploited it, twisted it beyond recognition, marginalized me to others that I care about, lied to family members to cover the truth, and while I hoped and prayed for true contrition and lasting remorse, I don’t feel I ever received that. I became despondent with this reality.
“Fundamentally, as a fellow human being, let alone Bill’s sister-in-law, I truly thought I had a right to count on Bill to not physically hurt me, to not hurt my family. All the more reason the fact that I stand here today is unconscionably tragic.
“I could have let Bill Cooley define me as a victim, but today, in coming forward, in shining a bright light on truth, I am working to rewrite that narrative and as a means of healing, I will work to channel the worst event of my life into something of service to benefit others.”