Maj. Gen. Bill Cooley, the former Air Force Research Laboratory commander who was convicted of abusive sexual contact last spring, will retire as a colonel on Thursday, two sources tell Air Force Times.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall chose to demote the two-star general to a field-grade officer after the April 2022 trial, an Air Force Materiel Command spokesperson said Tuesday.

“The Department of the Air Force expects its leaders to embody our core values and holds them accountable if they fall short of expectations,” the spokesperson said.

Cooley was charged with three counts of abusive sexual contact under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which covers sex-related crimes.

Following a weeklong court-martial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, a military judge found Cooley guilty of one count for forcibly kissing his brother’s wife in a car after a barbeque in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in August 2018.

“She is grateful the Air Force stripped him of this coveted title, and hopes that her coming forward contributes to a meaningful change in a culture that has led to epidemic levels of sexual harassment and assault within our military ranks,” said Ryan Guilds, a pro bono legal advocate for Cooley’s accuser.

The woman agreed to be publicly identified by her relationship to the defendant, but not by name. Air Force Times does not publish the names of sexual assault victims without their permission to protect their privacy.

The judge found Cooley not guilty of the other two counts on the charge. He was sentenced to a reprimand and forfeiture of $54,550.

He had faced a maximum punishment of dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for seven years and a possible spot in the national sex offender database.

The case marked the first time a military court had issued a verdict in a case involving an Air Force general, as well as the first time sexual assault charges had led to criminal prosecution for an official so high in the chain of command.

Because the judge did not sentence him to leave the Air Force or to jail him for at least six months, Cooley was not initially allowed to bring his case to the service’s appellate court. Instead, Air Force leadership reviewed the case to ensure it was run fairly, the spokesperson said.

Kendall would consider whether to take the unusual step of demoting Cooley, or allow him to retain his rank, once he asked to retire, the service told Air Force Times last year.

After Congress passed new legislation in December that broadened the scope of which military court cases could be appealed, Cooley lodged a complaint with the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals on April 30, the spokesperson said.

The Air Force did not immediately answer a query on the status of Cooley’s case, or whether it will continue after he retires. The appeal is separate from Kendall’s decision to demote the defendant.

Cooley was removed from command at the research lab in January 2020 after nearly three years in the job. He then became a special assistant to the head of Air Force Materiel Command, handling the Air Force’s technology innovation efforts.

His retirement ends a three-decade military career in the design and acquisition of space and missile defense systems. Cooley also briefly deployed to Afghanistan, and earned the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit and Defense Superior Service Medal.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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