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

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Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has denied a request from a two-star general accused of sexual assault and other crimes to retire instead of facing a court-martial, according to the general’s attorneys.

The secretary’s decision means Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, only the second Air Force general in history to be charged with a sexual crime, is set to be tried by court-martial in June after being relieved of command of the 19th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, last year.

Stewart is charged with allegedly committing a sex act on a woman without her consent near Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma in April 2023, according to a military charge sheet. He is also charged with conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly asking someone to “spend the night alone with him in his private hotel room” near Denver, Colorado, while on official travel in March 2023. The charges include extramarital sexual conduct.

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“We are looking forward to our day in court,” Stewart’s lead attorney, Sherilyn Bunn, told Military.com in a statement. Spokespeople for Kendall and the Department of the Air Force did not provide comment.

Stewart submitted the retirement in lieu of a court-martial request in January. Jeffrey Addicott, a member of Stewart’s legal team, a professor of law and director of the Warrior Defense Project at St. Mary’s University School of Law, told Military.com that Kendall denied the major general’s request. A person familiar with the legal proceedings said it was denied on Feb. 20.

Stewart pleaded not guilty to the charges in March, and his case is scheduled to go to trial June 17.

Military.com asked Kendall on Feb. 13 at an Air and Space Forces Association conference in Colorado whether he planned on approving or denying Stewart’s request. He declined to answer, but said Stewart’s case — despite its historic nature — did not indicate larger problems in the officer corps.

“I don’t think it’s representative of a larger issue,” Kendall said in response to Military.com during a 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.”

On May 9, 2023, Air Education and Training Command announced that Stewart had been removed from his role as commander of the 19th Air Force, which is responsible for training 30,000 students annually and is part of AETC. The command cited “a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to alleged misconduct, which is currently under investigation.”

It was later revealed in a redacted charge sheet provided to Military.com that Stewart was facing a dereliction of duty charge, in which it was alleged that he failed to stop “pursuing an unprofessional relationship.” It also states he allegedly “failed to refrain from assuming control of an aircraft after consuming alcohol within 12 hours prior to takeoff.”

Addicott told Military.com last year that the judge for the military Article 32 hearing, a process similar to a grand jury for civilians, recommended that the sexual assault charges be dropped and the other charges should not go to trial, but the Air Education and Training Command leader still referred Stewart to a court-martial.

Stewart’s case marks the second time an Air Force general has been charged with a sexual crime. The first was in 2022, when then-Maj. Gen. William Cooley — who had headed the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio — was convicted during a court-martial of abusive sexual contact.

Cooley was ordered to forfeit $10,910 of pay for five months and received a letter of reprimand. He had faced a maximum of seven years of confinement, separation, and loss of pay and benefits.

Related: Air Force General Convicted in Historic Court-Martial Avoids Jail Time

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