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Crime and Courts

Adams County DA had “romantic relationship” with victim advocate who died last month, court record says

Kate Petrocco’s family cites the relationship with District Attorney Dave Young as a reason to keep him away from the investigation into her death

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The family of an Adams County victim services manager wants District Attorney Dave Young to be “firewalled” from the investigation into her death in July because of a relationship the two had while they worked in the same office. 

In a sworn affidavit The Colorado Sun obtained following a records request to the court, Kate Petrocco wrote that she and Young had been involved in a “romantic relationship” late last year. 

Kate Petrocco was the victim services program manager for the Adams County District Attorney’s Office. She was found dead on July 14. (Provided by Moira Sharkey)

Young, who is married, declined to answer The Sun’s questions except to say that his office has not been involved in the investigation into Petrocco’s death and that if a criminal case is opened, he will step aside and appoint a special prosecutor since she was one of his employees. 

But Petrocco’s sister said the relationship has ramifications for the investigation into how Petrocco died, which she believes was a homicide. While not suggesting or implying Young had something to do with her sister’s death, Moira Sharkey said she believes the only way to protect the investigation is to keep Young from being involved in any capacity.

Petrocco, 36, was found dead in her home in Brighton on July 14, but authorities have not said how she died. Sharkey says the family was told by Adams County Sheriff’s Office investigators that Petrocco’s death is being investigated as a suicide.

“We asked the Adams County sheriff directly to firewall him off from the investigation,” Sharkey said. Sharkey said she and Petrocco discussed the relationship, adding that she also spoke with Young about it after her sister died. 

“I feel somebody killed my sister. I don’t know who. I don’t claim to know who,” Sharkey said. “But I feel that it’s inappropriate for someone that she was in a romantic relationship with to have any oversight over that investigation because, in my opinion, it compromises the integrity of the whole thing.”

The sheriff’s office will only say that it’s investigating and that no arrests have been made. Authorities say they are waiting for the probe to be complete before releasing further information.

Petrocco, the daughter of former 18th Judicial District Court Judge Gerald Rafferty, who presided over the high-profile murder case against Sir Mario Owens, married into the well-known Adams County Petrocco family and for years was the public face of Petrocco Farms’ Brighton-based produce operation.

She filed for divorce from Dave Petrocco Jr. early last year, court records show. 

Petrocco described her relationship with Young in a sworn affidavit filed in her divorce case in February.

Petrocco wrote in the document that she began a romantic relationship with Young in late October 2018. That was just a few months after she began working at the district attorney’s office in August 2018 as the agency’s victim services program manager, responsible for overseeing victims’ compensation and restitution. 

Dave Young, 17th Judicial District Attorney, front left, makes a point as George Brauchler, 18th Judicial District Attorney, front right, and U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, back, look on during a news conference to announce that 42 people were arrested in one of the largest black market marijuana enforcement actions in the state’s history during a news conference Friday, May 24, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

In the affidavit, Petrocco asked that the judge assigned to her divorce case, Sean Finn, remove himself from the proceedings because of his prior interactions with Young. Finn worked with Young at the Adams County District Attorney’s Office, but left before Young was elected DA in 2012. 

“Dave Young indicated to me that he also gave a negative recommendation to Sean Finn when he was up for judgeship,” Petrocco’s affidavit said. “Dave Young indicated that there were numerous other contentious matters between the two of them.”

Petrocco said she felt “this connection creates an unfair prejudice against me in my dissolution proceeding because there is a reasonable question as to Judge Finn’s impartiality after being made aware of this issue.”

Petrocco inaccurately claimed in the affidavit that Young had been responsible for terminating Finn from the district attorney’s office when in reality he left for a job as Boulder County’s chief trial deputy in 2010. He was appointed to the bench in Adams County in February 2018

MORE: Read the affidavit.

Court records show that Finn was eventually replaced in the divorce case. The split was never finalized because Petrocco died before it was resolved, her family says.

Petrocco noted in divorce filings reviewed by The Sun that there had been criminal domestic violence charges filed against her husband in January 2018 related to the split. Court records confirm he pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and criminal mischief — both misdemeanors. He was sentenced to probation as part of a deferred sentence, according to his attorney, John Davis.

Davis said his client has been reserving comment until the investigation into Kate’s death is complete. 

Rafferty, a former prosecutor and FBI special agent, declined an interview request, but said in a written statement to The Sun that he has been “wildly disappointed” by the investigation of his daughter’s death.

Sharkey said Petrocco was in a vulnerable state when her relationship with Young began and that Young told her that he was going through a separation. Sharkey added that her family did not approve of the two being together. 

The Adams County District Attorney’s Office says it does not have any policies barring interoffice dating or relationships. The district attorney’s offices in Denver and Jefferson counties also said they do not have such policies. 

“Katie suffered tremendously,” Sharkey said. “She absolutely was abusing alcohol following the beginning of her divorce. It was something that we as a family continued to encourage her to seek treatment for. Katie wasn’t perfect, and we’re not saying she was perfect.”

Last week, the Adams County Coroner’s Office said Petrocco’s autopsy had not been completed. The sheriff’s office said it was waiting until toxicology reports are returned before speaking further about the case. 

“At that time, we will make a statement,” said Sgt. Paul Gregory, a sheriff’s office spokesman.

Sharkey said her family has serious doubts that the mother of two would have taken her own life, but declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.  

“She, as a person, would not do this,” Sharkey said. “We believe, without a doubt, that she would not leave her children.” 

Sharkey said that even though Petrocco was suffering, “she still had this light about her.” 

Kate Petrocco, dancing with her father, Gerald Rafferty, served as victim services program manager for the Adams County District Attorney’s Office. She was found dead on July 14. (Provided by Moira Sharkey)

Before working at the district attorney’s office and Petrocco Farms, she worked for the disability-advocacy group Easterseals. She was also heavily involved in the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado in honor of her brother who passed away.

“Katie was loved by so many, and brought joy and love to others wherever she went,” her obituary says. “Her passing has undoubtedly left this world a little darker. But those of us who knew her will carry on her light and her memory, and will help raise her children to know what a force their mother was, and remains.”

“She was an amazing human being,” Sharkey said. “She was a force.”


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