The Reluctant Witness

He simply wanted his father to tell the truth, to stop the posing and the big-shot games and start saying something that made sense.

Why is Mom still missing? What do you know? Why haven't you told your own brothers and sisters that she vanished three months ago and that Dallas police have suspicions there was foul play?

Those are some of the things Ronnie Davis was thinking as he drove from his dorm room at the University of Texas at Arlington to the family home near the Oak Cliff Country Club one evening last September. He just wanted Ron Davis--lawyer, community activist, former Dallas NAACP leader and a close political ally of Lee Alcorn and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price--to tell him what happened to his mother.

Ron Davis had no answers for his son. But he had something else in store. On June 13, 2001, Sharon Davis, a 51-year-old schoolteacher, evaporated without a trace at the start of a routine morning. Only two days earlier, on June 11, her lawyer had filed what promised to be a nasty divorce suit, complete with broad claims that Davis had committed "fraud on the community," that he was at fault for the breakup of their 21-year union and that she should receive more than half their assets, starting with him being made to move out of the house. The summons had not been served, but relatives say she'd warned her husband it was on the way.

When the son came calling, Ron Davis answered the front door of the spacious, '80s-era two-story home in the 1900 block of Elderleaf Drive, which is on a cul-de-sac in a quiet, pretty neighborhood popular with Dallas' black middle class.

As soon as he let Ronnie in, he demanded to know whether the young man was wearing a wire for the detective assigned to Sharon Davis' missing persons case, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The trim 21-year-old finance major stripped off his baseball shirt to show he wasn't; then he launched into his questions. "He was saying stuff like, 'Well, your mom went away.' You know, just left. I wasn't buying that," Ronnie recalls now.

Then, changing directions, Davis offered his son a new theory, one of four he is said to have given since his wife disappeared. He told Ronnie he had documentation that his mother was in a "mental hospital," the affidavit states. When Ronnie asked for proof, he says, his father offered none.

The tension in the room inched higher, and talk became argument. Ronnie says he was egging on his father, purposely angering him. "I was saying, 'Well, it's a shame that my mom has come up missing and she actually beat you in life. You always run around acting like you're a bigwig or something, and she did beat you. It's a shame that she's not here to see it.'...He doesn't like being belittled."

As the insults flew, Ron drifted toward the back of the house and into a dimly lit library. In his sworn testimony, Ronnie says he turned to switch on a light, then turned back to see his father reaching for a holstered pistol, which was hanging on the back of a desk chair. "You talk a good game," the son reported his father saying. "You're not afraid to die."

Ronnie says he didn't wait to see what would happen next. When he heard the gun cock, he bolted down the hall, piled through the front door and out to his car. As he raced into the cul-de-sac, then came back to the front of the house, he suddenly remembered something.

"Damn." He'd left his cell phone and some insurance papers in the house. And he thought he might have been able to catch some of his father's words on a dictation feature on his phone. "He's peeking out the door, and I'm yelling, 'Put the gun down; put the gun down,'" Ronnie recalls, describing how he got out of his car and walked back into the yard.

He says his father opened the door, unarmed, and the two exchanged a few more words on the doorstep as several neighbors looked on.

"Someone is going to come out to UTA. Somebody is going to talk to you in the next couple of days," Davis said, according to the affidavit. "You need to see how serious I am. You crossed the line...still living in the same dorm?"

Today, Ronnie Davis' testimony is little more than a sheath of papers in an unsolved missing persons case, and Ron Davis is still going places in Dallas public life.

This spring, a grand jury declined to indict Davis on a felony assault charge arising from the September incident, a charge detectives say could be refiled.