New details emerged on Tuesday which tell the story behind why Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley, the first general in Air Force history to face court-martial, was accused of sexual assault.
The alleged victim, the wife of Cooley’s brother, shared her story on the second day of the general’s court-martial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
“Bill Cooley’s attack on me was like an F5 tornado coming into my house, without my knowledge … without my consent, ruining everything in its path,” she said, according to the Journal-News, a local newspaper based in Butler County, Ohio.
Cooley was chief of the Air Force Research Laboratory in August 2018 when he was first accused of making unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female civilian. He is charged with three counts of sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The general was relieved in January 2020 and reassigned as a special assistant to Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., chief of Air Force Materiel Command.
The lead-up to the trial was covered widely by the media since Cooley is the first Air Force general to face court-martial, especially as the Air Force and the military as a whole struggle to crack down on sexual assault and harassment in its ranks. However, Tuesday was the first time more specifics were made public about the woman Cooley allegedly assaulted and the circumstances that led to it.
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Cooley and the victim, who was unnamed by media outlets to protect her privacy, had known each other for 30 years before the alleged assault. The sister-in-law described her relationship with the general as “almost nonexistent” for most of those years, according to Air Force Times. However, recently he had become more physically affectionate, giving her full embraces rather than short hugs and even sometimes kissing the top of her head and smelling her hair during a hug, which made her deeply uncomfortable, according to Air Force Times.
It came to a head after a barbecue at the sister-in-law’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2018. Cooley was in town for a conference at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base, according to Coffee Or Die. Cooley asked the sister-in-law to drive him down the street to his parents’ house to pick up his luggage so that he could stay at the sister-in-law and her husband’s home, according to Air Force Times. But when they were alone together in the car, the general allegedly took her hand and said he’d been fantasizing about having sex with her for years.
“Am I the only one who feels this sexual tension?” the general said, according to the sister-in-law’s uniformed lawyer, Maj. Abbigayle Hunter, Air Force Times reported.
“I am utterly, completely stunned. I’m speechless,” the victim reportedly said, recalling that she felt “terrified” by a man she had known since 1988. The sister-in-law remained in the car trying to gather herself while Cooley collected his luggage from his parent’s house.
The sister-in-law decided to drive Cooley back to her and her husband’s house out of fear of making the situation worse, according to Air Force Times. But either on the way back or once they arrived, the plaintiff could not remember, the general allegedly took her hand again and placed it on his groin. She testified that, after pulling into the garage, Cooley allegedly pinned the woman against the driver’s side door, kissed her, groped her breast and pressed his hand between her legs.
“I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience,” she said, according to Air Force Times. “I thought, ‘This is how rapes happen.’”
The sister-in-law pushed Cooley back to the passenger seat. The two stayed there for “what felt like a long time,” the plaintiff said, according to Coffee Or Die. Then her husband — Cooley’s brother — approached the car and asked if they were okay, to which she responded that they were talking about a friend from high school. The sister-in-law said she “did not have words to describe what happened,” for a while, but told her husband what happened within the next two days, Coffee Or Die reported.
According to Air Force Times, Cooley, his brother and his sister-in-law tried going to therapy together, where the couple asked the general to apologize and lay out how he would make things right. But the couple felt Cooley “was not owning up to his actions in discussions with others, including his parents,” Air Force Times wrote, which made them feel they had to take the issue to court.
The general’s defense team said the interaction in the car was consensual, and that the sister-in-law wanted to only ruin his career, according to Coffee Or Die. In response, the sister-in-law said any idea that it was consensual is “simply not true,” according to Air Force Times. The defense team said the plaintiff had flirted with the general during the barbecue and that she gave mixed messages in her interactions with Cooley afterwards.
“I’m flattered. Stunned, but flattered,” the sister-in-law said in a voicemail that was played in court, Air Force Times reported. She also described the interaction as “we kissed” in a voicemail, a choice she said she regretted in court.
“I regret that to this day,” she said, according to the Journal-News.
Air Force Times reported that Cooley sent nearly $1,000 to the sister-and-law and her brother, but said he would report them for blackmail if they tried to get more.
The general could face up to 21 years confinement, loss of rank, pay and benefits, and dismissal from service if convicted. The trial will be decided by a judge alone and is estimated to last to April 29.
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