AURORA | In Adams County, the race to be district attorney has rarely garnered attention in recent years.
Don Quick sailed to two terms as the top prosecutor in the 17th Judicial District — which includes Broomfield County as well as Adams — and when term limits forced him out, Dave Young cruised to the seat uncontested in 2012.
But in this year’s Democratic primary, Young is facing stiffer competition than usual.
Caryn Datz, a former Adams County prosecutor now working in Boulder County, topped Young at the party’s county assembly by a margin of close to 3-to-1, earning her top billing on the primary ballot and forcing Young to petition onto the ballot.
Datz said her win at the assembly — and her campaign efforts to speak to assembly-goers before hand — were a “metaphor” for her campaign, which she said is focused on having the office take on a more high-profile role in the community.
“I listened far more than I spoke and I tried to absorb as much as I could,” she said.
For his part, Young said the county assembly is not an especially useful gauge of how the community feels about the office. For one, Young said, fewer than 300 party activists voted at the assembly, compared to the more than 1,000 who signed petitions putting Young on the primary ballot.
“There’s a reason why there is a push to get rid of the caucus system and the assembly system,” he said.
The winner of the primary is set to face Republican Molly Jansen, a Henderson defense lawyer, in the general election.
Young came to the 17th in 2005 after more than a decade prosecuting cases in El Paso and Teller counties. Before he was elected DA, Young handed several high-profile Aurora cases, including the prosecution of a man who gunned down an Aurora police detective in 2006. The killer was sentenced to 80 years.
Young was also the lead prosecutor in the Quality Paving cases, a scandal that saw several county officials convicted of corruption.
That case, Young said, was crucial to helping restore the community’s trust in the county’s elected officials, and also resulted in growing the county commission to five members instead of three.
“The way the county has done business has changed completely due to the prosecution of that case,” he said.
Young said that during his first term, his office launched a citizens’ academy that helps community members better understand what the office does and has also launched several initiatives targeting crime.
One of those is a white-collar crime unit that handles cases that often were sent instead to civil court, he said. That unit helped victims recover more than $1 million, he said.
“We were able to not only prosecute them, but make victims whole again,” he said.
The office has also launched units targeting drugs and human trafficking, he said, as well as diversion programs to keep first-time offenders from getting embroiled in the criminal justice system.
“It’s tough to get out of the system once you get in it,” he said.
Datz started work at the Adams County office in 2006 and worked there until 2013 when she took a job in the Boulder County prosecutors office, where she specializes in sex crime prosecutions. During her time in Adams County, Datz prosecuted a man who set a fatal fire at a north Aurora apartment complex. In that case, Datz secured the conviction of Douglas Taylor, who was subsequently sentenced to almost 300 years in prison in 2010. A co-defendant entered a plea agreement and was sentenced to 60 years.
If elected, Datz said she would set out to make the DA’s office not just more active in the community, but more reflective of the community as well. Right now, the DA’s office has few prosecutors who are people of color and few women or minorities in upper management.
“That is woefully unrepresentative of the diverse counties that we serve,” she said.
She also said she would expand the economic crime unit and launch an adult sex crime unit.
Datz said that as someone who currently specializes in sex crime cases, she understands the resources that those heinous crimes require.
“There has been no prioritization of one of the most-serious crimes that effect our community, which is sexual assault,” she said.