Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley in Dayton, Ohio, in November 2019.

Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley in Dayton, Ohio, in November 2019. (U.S. Air Force)

An Air Force major general convicted of abusive sexual contact in a 2022 court-martial will retire from the service Thursday as a colonel, a service official said.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall made the decision to demote Maj. Gen. William Cooley, the former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Cooley was sentenced to a reprimand and forfeiture of about $55,000 after a five-day general court-martial in April 2022.

Cooley was found guilty of forcibly kissing his sister-in-law, who accused him of unwanted sexual contact after giving him a ride to his parents’ house after an August 2018 family barbecue in Albuquerque, N.M., officials said at his court martial. He was acquitted of two other counts of abusive sexual contact in which prosecutors had accused him of forcibly touching her genitals and her breasts.

Cooley was the first Air Force general officer to ever face a court-martial and the highest-ranking officer convicted of a sexual crime. He faced a maximum penalty that included seven years in military prison, dismissal from the Air Force and forfeiture of all pay.

The military judge, Col. Christina Jimenez, did not sentence Cooley to confinement or dismissal, so it fell to Kendall to decide at what pay grade that Cooley would be allowed to retire.

The decision to dock him two pay grades is rare, an Air Force official said Tuesday. It will cost Cooley tens of thousands of dollars in retirement pay and benefits, the official said.

“The Department of the Air Force expects its leaders to embody our core values and holds them accountable if they fall short,” a spokesman for Air Force Materiel Command said in a statement confirming Cooley’s status.

Cooley, 57, has served 35 years in the Air Force and deployed to Afghanistan in 2005, according to his service biography. He rose to two-star general in 2018 and took command of the Air Force Research Laboratory, a multibillion-dollar, 6,000-person workforce focused on science, technology, research and development for U.S. air, space and cyber forces.

In January 2020, Air Force Gen. Arnold Bunch, then the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, removed Cooley from duty over “a loss in confidence in his ability to lead,” while citing an ongoing investigation. Bunch’s decision came shortly after Cooley’s brother and sister-in-law reported the general’s 2018 actions to the Air Force Officer of Special Investigations.

Cooley was charged with abusive sexual contact just months later in November 2020.

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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