A two-star Air Force general on Saturday was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman during a work trip in 2023, avoiding what could have been a decades-long prison sentence in a rare, nearly-two week-long court-martial of a high-ranking officer.

Instead, a jury of eight fellow officers found Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, the service’s former pilot training boss, guilty on multiple charges, including adultery, conduct unbecoming of an officer and dereliction of duty, for pursuing an unprofessional relationship with the woman as well as for controlling an airplane within 12 hours of consuming alcohol — violating the so-called “bottle-to-throttle” rule.

Stewart will forfeit up to $60,000 in pay, the Air Force said. He also faces a reprimand and will not be allowed to leave Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, for two months.

“We recognize the gravity of the charges and the profound impact these allegations have had, both on the accuser and my client,” Sherilyn Bunn, Stewart’s civilian attorney, said in a statement. “From the beginning, Maj. Gen. Stewart maintained his innocence, confident that the truth would emerge. This case has highlighted the need for a careful and respectful approach to allegations of sexual assault.”

Stewart initially pleaded not guilty on all charges during a hearing in March. But as the case moved forward last week, he pleaded guilty to charges of adultery and dereliction of duty for pursuing an unprofessional relationship with an unnamed woman between September 2022 and May 2023, according to a charge sheet obtained by Air Force Times.

He was subsequently found guilty of additional charges, including conduct unbecoming of an officer for inviting the woman to spend the night in his hotel room, and for dereliction of duty related to drinking and flying, by a jury that included eight generals who have reached at least the same rank as Stewart.

Stewart faced as much as two-and-a-half years in confinement for the charges of which he was convicted, and could have faced more than six decades in prison if convicted on the sexual assault charges.

The two-star allegedly penetrated the unidentified woman’s vulva with his mouth and penis without her consent on multiple occasions during a work trip to Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, a training hub for airmen across the air mobility enterprise, during April 2023. Stewart’s attorneys contended that while he did have sex with the woman, it was consensual.

The woman — an officer who was Stewart’s subordinate — testified at the court-martial that though she didn’t want to have sex with her boss after a night of drinking, she complied with his advances because she was “dumbfounded” and saw no way to escape the situation, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Stewart flew a C-17 transport plane out of Oklahoma the following morning, the woman testified.

The female officer later reported the encounter to the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, the Express-News said.

She also said she was rattled by a text exchange in which Stewart suggested she sleep in his hotel room during a trip to an Air Force conference in Denver in March, the publication reported.

The woman added in court that she plans to retire in November rather than pursue a command position, the Express-News said.

“This case has been distressing for many, and we appreciate the sensitivity and seriousness with which it was handled,” Bunn said. “It is our hope that this verdict reinforces the importance of a just and fair legal system that upholds the principles of justice and integrity.”

Stewart was fired from his job leading 19th Air Force, which manages a large swath of airman training programs, in May 2023 amid a misconduct investigation by Air Education and Training Command boss Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson. Details of the reprimand he will face were not immediately available Monday.

Josh Connolly, senior vice president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sexual assault victims, said the case should never have gone to court-martial at all. The lesser offenses should have been handled administratively after a military judge in a preliminary hearing last year recommended that the sexual assault charges be dropped, he said.

But Robinson opted to take the case to court-martial anyway, ahead of new Pentagon rules that removes prosecution of some of the most serious criminal cases — including sexual assault — from the chain of command. Those cases are now handled by special trial counsels.

“If there isn’t evidence there to get a conviction, then how is that doing a service to anyone?” Connolly asked.

Stewart is only the second general officer in Air Force to face court-martial on sexual misconduct charges, and the third to be arraigned on military charges in the service’s 77-year history. Maj. Gen. Bill Cooley, the former Air Force Research Laboratory commander, was convicted by a military judge of abusive sexual conduct in April 2022 for forcibly kissing his brother’s wife.

Cooley retired as a colonel in June 2023. An appeal with the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals is pending.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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