Air Force General Charged with Sexual Assault Pleads Not Guilty Ahead of June Trial Date

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, 19th Air Force commander, speaks to the audience after receiving the unit guidon during the 19th Air Force change of command ceremony Aug. 19, 2022, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jonathan Mallard)

A two-star general who was relieved from command of the 19th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas last year amid charges of sexual assault and other crimes pleaded not guilty to the allegations in court, and is still seeking to potentially retire ahead of his trial.

Maj. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart pleaded not guilty and requested a jury panel for his trial during a hearing at Joint Base San Antonio on Thursday, an Air Force Air Education and Training Command spokesman confirmed to

Stewart's case marks the second time in history that an Air Force general officer has been formally charged with a sexual crime. The projected start date for the trial is June 17.

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Jeffrey Addicott, a professor of law and director of the Warrior Defense Project at St. Mary's University School of Law and a member of Stewart's legal team -- told on Friday that the request for retirement in lieu of court-martial they submitted in January is still "in the works."

In May, Air Education and Training Command announced that Stewart was being removed as commander of the 19th Air Force "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to alleged misconduct, which is currently under investigation." Subsequently in October, he faced an Article 32 hearing -- a preliminary hearing similar to a grand jury proceeding for civilians.

Addicott told in December that the judge for the Article 32 hearing had recommended that the sexual assault charges be dropped and the other charges not go to trial, but Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, head of Air Education and Training Command, referred the charges to a court-martial.

"They rendered a report saying that, in his opinion, he recommended to the convening authority that the more serious charges ... not go forward at all, and that the other charges be disposed of administratively against Gen. Stewart," Addicott said in December. "That was his recommendation. It wasn't followed. ... It's highly unusual that convening authorities do not follow what the Article 32 officer recommends."

Late last year, the Department of the Air Force's Office of Special Trial Counsel became fully operational and was tasked with investigation and prosecution of 14 categories of offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including sex-related crimes. Had Stewart faced charges this year instead of last, that office, instead of the head of Air Education and Training Command, would have recommended whether the charges should go to court-martial.

A redacted charge sheet provided to in October by the command outlines the alleged misconduct.

Stewart faces a dereliction of duty charge in which he is accused of failing to refrain from "pursuing an unprofessional relationship." Additionally, the charge sheet details that he allegedly "failed to refrain from assuming control of an aircraft after consuming alcohol within 12 hours prior to takeoff."

The two-star also faces sexual assault charges and is alleged to have committed a sex act on a person at or near Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma "without her consent."

And Stewart was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer near Denver, Colorado, "while on official travel," in which he allegedly wrongfully invited an individual to "spend the night alone with him in his private hotel room," the charge sheet adds.

Stewart also faces an extramarital sexual conduct charge.

The charge sheet redacts the names of those involved in the alleged incidents. does not identify victims of sexual assault.

It's a rarity for general officers to face court-martial. The first Air Force general to face court-martial proceedings was Maj. Gen. Donald Kaufman in 1992 over allegations that he took war trophies from the Persian Gulf War and went on unnecessary temporary-duty trips, Stars and Stripes reported. He was arraigned, but the case was dismissed and he did not face a jury. Kaufman was demoted in rank to colonel through nonjudicial punishment and allowed to retire.

In 2022, then-Maj. Gen. William Cooley, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, was convicted of abusive sexual contact in a court-martial. He was the first-ever Air Force general to be tried for sexual crimes and convicted in a court-martial.

A judge sentenced Cooley to forfeit $10,910 of pay for five months, and he was also given a letter of reprimand from the court-martial convening authority, then-Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Arnold Bunch. Cooley was not sentenced to jail, but faced a maximum sentence of seven years of confinement, separation, and loss of pay and benefits. He ultimately retired as a colonel.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will be in charge of approving or denying Stewart's request to retire.

Kendall was asked about Stewart's case by Military,com during a media roundtable at the Air and Space Forces Association's Conference in Colorado last month, where he said he did not believe it was representative of a cultural issue in the service's general officer corps.

"I don't think it's representative of a larger issue," Kendall said during the media roundtable. "Gen. Stewart has not been convicted yet, so I don't want to say anything about his guilt or innocence. We take these cases incredibly seriously."

Related: Air Force General Charged with Sexual Assault Requests Retirement Instead of Facing Court-Martial

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