Air Force 2-star pleads not guilty in sexual assault case

by Vern Evans

An Air Force two-star general accused of sexually assaulting a woman last year pleaded not guilty in a military courtroom Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, the Air Force’s former pilot training boss, faces charges that he assaulted the unnamed woman at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, in April 2023, as well as accusations that he pursued an unprofessional relationship and flew a plane within 12 hours of consuming alcohol. He pleaded not guilty on all charges, Sherry Bunn, one of Stewart’s civilian attorneys, told Air Force Times in an email Friday.

Stewart is only the second Air Force general to face court-martial for sexual assault; his attorneys have argued the sex was consensual. The trial is scheduled to begin June 17 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

The two-star general will be tried by a jury of his peers rather than by military judge, Bunn said. A panel of potential jurors has already been selected from the Air Force’s 200 or so generals, lieutenant generals and major generals who have served in uniform as least as long as the defendant.

In January, as Stewart’s case was headed toward arraignment, he filed paperwork with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall seeking to retire in lieu of court-martial. Attorneys for Stewart did not respond to a question from Air Force Times on the status of that request.

Air Education and Training Command spokesperson Capt. Scarlett Trujillo declined to answer whether Kendall had approved the retirement, citing the defendant’s privacy.

Air Education and Training Command boss Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson fired Stewart last May amid a misconduct investigation. Stewart previously led 19th Air Force, where he oversaw pilot training, 32,000 employees and more than 1,500 aircraft from JBSA-Randolph.

Stewart was charged last September with two counts of sexual assault under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; two counts of dereliction of duty under Article 92; one count of conduct unbecoming of an officer under Article 133; and one count of extramarital sexual conduct under Article 134.

Robinson approved the charges against Stewart following a preliminary hearing in October. Stewart deferred entering a plea when he was arraigned in January.

He faces a minimum sentence of dismissal or dishonorable discharge, or up to 66 years in confinement and forfeiture of pay if convicted.

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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