Air Force orders court-martial for Ohio chief master sgt. accused of sexual harassment

The Air Force ordered court-martial proceedings for an Ohio-based chief master sergeant accused of sexually harassing female subordinates, including inappropriate touching and sending explicit text messages.

William Gurney, a 27-year veteran, will be tried Dec. 6 at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, the Air Force said Thursday. Gurney had been the top-ranking enlisted man at the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, when the allegations surfaced last year.

A military judge heard testimony at Wright-Patterson during a three-day hearing in May on charges involving nine Air Force women. A 10th woman, a sergeant who allegedly got explicit texts from Gurney and kissed him, was added in the listing of charges released Thursday.

At the hearing, women testified about flirtations, inappropriate touching, exchanges of text messages and nude or seminude photos, and other encounters that in some cases led to consensual sex and affairs. One woman testified she said "no" before Gurney had sex with her in his office.

The Air Force says Gurney will face 19 counts at his court-martial, including wrongful sexual contact, adultery, maltreatment of subordinates and dereliction of duty by misuse of his position. He also is charged with misusing government property for allegedly sending numerous sexual messages and photos with his military-issued phone.

A charge of obstruction of justice was added to the initial counts because Gurney allegedly tried to influence the testimony of a witness, the Air Force said in a statement. The Air Force said a charge that Gurney improperly tried to get a female airman transferred to Wright-Patterson was dropped on the hearing judge's recommendation.

A representative for Gurney's defense team said it had no comment Thursday. Gurney hasn't commented publicly on the charges and declined to make a statement at the close of the May hearing.

Air Force spokeswoman Karen Petitt said Gurney will remain assigned to administrative duties pending trial. She said Gurney will be tried before a military judge and a jury of five members of the Air Force, or he can request trial by judge only. If found guilty, he could face punishments including up to 20 years in prison and dishonorable discharge, or lesser discipline such as demotion and a pay cut, she said.

"The Air Force takes all allegations of misconduct seriously, and holds its people to the highest standards. It presumes the innocence of the accused until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," the Air Force said in a statement.

Petitt said the Air Force had no further comment on the case.

Lt. Gen. Robert Allardice, 18th Air Force commander at Scott, ordered the general court-martial trial after reviewing the report of the military judge who oversaw the May hearings.

Gurney was reassigned to a desk job in November after a female airman complained of harassment. He had transferred to Wright-Patterson in 2008 from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where he was command chief of the Ogden Air Logistics Center and 75th Air Base Wing.