A Colorado man who pleaded guilty to shooting a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger during a gunfight last year was sentenced to more than 23 years in federal prison Friday, federal prosecutors said.
Daron Marquel Ellis, 29, of Aurora, accepted a plea agreement after opening fire at park law enforcement ranger Mitchell Hauptman on Dec. 8, 2021, near the park’s Fall River entrance.
He was sentenced to 23½ years in federal prison on a second degree attempted murder charge of a federal officer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.
The shooting happened after Ellie fled from a Colorado State Patrol trooper on Dec. 8 on U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon, authorities said. Hauptman was alerted the vehicle might be heading toward the park.
Hauptman saw a vehicle matching the suspect’s description near the park’s entrance and turned on his lights, but Ellis drove around the ranger’s vehicle on the shoulder of the road, authorities at the time said. The vehicle stopped after hitting several boulders just inside the park’s boundaries.
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Hauptman got out of his vehicle, pulled his pistol, ordered Ellis and a female passenger out of the car and to show their hands, authorities said. Officials say Ellis did not get out of the vehicle and instead began firing at Hauptman using a 9mm semiautomatic handgun.
A bullet struck Hauptman, who was taking cover behind his vehicle. He was hit in the upper-left side of his chest but was wearing a protective vest. The bullet left a large bruise but didn’t cause any life-threatening injuries.
The ranger returned fire, hitting Ellis before he eventually surrendered.
Neither was seriously injured in the shooting, but both were hospitalized.
“To shoot at and try to kill a peace officer is a particularly egregious crime that will be punished with significant time in federal prison,” U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan said in a news release.
Park spokesperson Kyle Patterson previously said she believed the incident marked the first time a shooting like this occurred in the park since it was established in 1915.