Man found guilty of shooting Rocky Mountain National Park ranger sentenced to 23.5 years

The west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Robert Mendoza / Sky-Hi News archive photo

An Aurora man has been sentenced to spend 23.5 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder in the second degree of a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

According to a news release from the Colorado District Attorney’s office, Daron Marquel Ellis, of Aurora, shot Rocky Mountain National Park law enforcement ranger Mitchell Hauptman, after Ellis led a Colorado State Trooper on a high-speed chase in a stolen car on Dec. 8, 2021. The trooper chased Ellis from where he had pulled him over in Larimer County and up winding mountain roads before the pursuit ended. 

Hauptman was on duty in the park during midmorning when saw a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s. As soon as he recognized the car, he activated his emergency lights, according to the release. The defendant’s vehicle then attempted to evade the ranger by driving on the shoulder of the road and came to a stop after hitting several boulders that were just inside the boundary of the park.

Hauptman approached the vehicle with his duty pistol pulled and ordered Ellis and other occupants in the car to get out of it, says the release. At that time, without provocation, Ellis began firing at Hauptman using a semiautomatic handgun. One bullet hit Hauptman, who was wearing a ballistics vest and was uninjured. 

Ellis fired multiple rounds at Hauptman, remaining in the car as he fired. Hauptman returned fire when he knew his life was in danger and hit Ellis. Ellis eventually surrendered and was taken into custody. The release said Hauptman had a bruise approximately 10 inches in diameter on the left side of his chest where he was shot.

“Any assault on a federal officer warrants FBI attention, and personnel from FBI Denver were immediately dispatched to this incident in Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Matthew Fodor, the FBI Denver acting special agent in charge, in the news release. “The National Park Service ranger performed his duties admirably and courageously as the gunman attacked. We are proud to assist in this prosecution and see this assailant receive justice.”

“Today’s sentencing brings important resolution to the attempted murder of one of our valued law enforcement rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park and allows us to focus on healing,” said Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles in the release. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to Ranger Hauptman and all National Park Service law enforcement rangers who sometimes must contend with serious crimes that do not stop at the park boundary. We express our deep appreciation to all who were involved with the investigation and securing this conviction including NPS rangers, the NPS Investigative Services Branch, the FBI, the Estes Park Police Department, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and the team of prosecuting attorneys.” 

Judge Raymond P. Moore sentenced Ellis on Oct. 31. He also sentenced Ellis to 5 years of supervised release.

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