FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 26, 2021
General Court Martialed and Found Guilty on Abusive Sexual Contact Charge for the First Time in Air Force History
Protect Our Defenders Legal Services Program worked directly with the survivor to pursue justice against Gen. Cooley, up against a military justice system that had never before brought a court-martial of an Air Force general to trial
Washington, DC – Today, Air Force Major General William Cooley was sentenced to a reprimand and a $10,910 per month reduction of pay for 5 months after being convicted of abusive sexual contact in a historic trial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on Saturday. After the survivor reached out to Protect Our Defenders (POD), POD used its Legal Services Network to provide her a pro bono attorney to advocate for her. This is the first time the Air Force has court-martialed a general in its almost 75 year history. The conviction and sentencing of a general officer is significant given the military justice system’s repeated failure to adequately punish crimes committed by senior leadership. POD applauds the bravery of the survivor who took on the military court system to pursue justice, enduring multiple years of delay in the process.
The conviction comes on the heels of the the most transformative military justice reform in our nation’s history becoming law with the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – empowering independent military prosecutors to determine whether those accused of sexual assault and other serious offenses will be prosecuted. POD will continue to demand abusers, especially among senior military leadership, be held accountable and survivors afforded justice.
Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United States Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, released the following statement:
“It has taken too long for the Air Force to hold a General Officer accountable at a court-martial. While the vast majority of General Officers serve honorably, over the last 75 years a number of generals have failed to meet the high standards required by committing criminal misconduct. Previously, the Air Force has always chosen to allow generals to quietly retire after administrative action, or failed to act at all.
“For lower ranking airmen, this inaction sent a clear message – the Air Force operated a two tier justice system, in which junior airmen were held to a higher standard than their leaders. This is the exact opposite of how military discipline should work.
“Cooley’s prosecution hopefully reversed this shameful practice. Further, the prosecution acknowledges the corrosive nature of sexual assault and misconduct when it occurs at the highest rank.”
The victim in United States v. Major General William T. Cooley HQ Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), released the following statement:
“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.”