Court-Martial Held in Texas for Air Force General Accused of Sexual Assault

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart 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)

Court-martial proceedings for an Air Force two-star general charged with sexual assault are being held this week in Texas, marking only the second time in history that a general officer in the service will head to trial while facing accusations of a sexual crime.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, a two-star general who formerly commanded the 19th Air Force prior to his charges, began administrative proceedings Monday at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. Jury selection is scheduled to start Tuesday, according to an Air Education and Training Command spokesperson.

The members of the jury will need to be the same rank or higher than Stewart, not an easy task among the limited numbers of general officers the service has -- fewer than 300 in total and less than half of them being higher or equal rank.

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That jury selection process is raising alarm for Stewart's defense team, especially given that only six of the eight jurors who make up the panel need to be in agreement on a guilty verdict to convict the Air Force officer. It is possible for his legal team to seek a bench trial, too, in which a judge would hear the case and render a verdict instead of a jury.

Meanwhile, attorney Sherilyn Bunn, Stewart's senior defense counsel, said in a statement that there are overall concerns that Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, head of Air Education and Training Command, decided to send the charges against the Air Force officer to court-martial in the first place.

    The legal team has told that the judge for the Article 32 hearing -- similar to a grand jury proceeding in the civilian world -- suggested that the sexual assault charge be dropped and the other charges not go to trial. But Robinson still referred the charges to court-martial, and he's also responsible for pulling potential jurors into the panel.

    "Given that a seasoned judge found no probable cause for the sexual assault charges at the Article 32 preliminary hearing, I have grave concerns about Lt. Gen. Robinson's perplexing decision to refer those same charges to court-martial," Bunn said. "Even more worrisome, Lt. Gen. Robinson also chose the potential panel members for this case. ... The process hardly seems fair."

    Spokespeople for the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command told on Monday that there were 13 general officers in town to be considered as potential jurors. reported last month that Stewart's request to seek retirement instead of facing a court-martial proceeding was ultimately denied by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

    In May 2023, Air Education and Training Command announced that Stewart was being relieved of his role as the head of the 19th Air Force, the numbered component that oversees flight training with 32,000 personnel and more than 1,350 aircraft.

    A redacted charge sheet provided to months after Stewart's firing revealed that he allegedly committed a sex act on a woman without her consent near Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma in April 2023. Other charges include conduct unbecoming an officer after allegedly asking someone to spend the night with him in his hotel room alone in Colorado in March 2023, as well as a charge of extramarital sexual conduct.

    Stewart also faces a dereliction of duty charge for allegedly pursuing an unprofessional relationship, and another specification of that charge for allegedly taking control of an aircraft "after consuming alcohol within 12 hours prior to takeoff," according to the charge sheet.

    The redacted charge sheet did not identify the name of the people involved, and does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

    The only other Air Force general to face a court-martial for sexual crimes, and the first to be convicted, was then-Maj. Gen. William Cooley, formerly the head of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

    Cooley, who decided against a jury trial and sought to have his case heard by a judge instead, was convicted of abusive sexual contact in 2022. Military judge Col. Christina Jimenez sentenced Cooley to forfeiture of $10,910 of pay for five months and a letter of reprimand. He was later reduced to the rank of colonel and retired, but ultimately avoided jail time.

    Stewart's trial also comes on the heels of the U.S. government's nearly $1 million settlement last year to an Army colonel who filed a civil sexual assault lawsuit against Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who was appointed to vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former President Donald Trump.

    Related: Air Force General Charged with Sexual Crimes Has Retirement Request Denied by Service Secretary

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