The investigators in dark blue state prosecutor's office jackets arrived at Mayor Sheila Dixon's tidy brick home just an hour after sunrise yesterday. The quiet Hunting Ridge neighborhood on the city's western edge wasn't quiet for long.

Within hours, a throng of reporters was camped out, watching intently as state investigators hauled out boxes of evidence.

Neighbors staked out territory of their own, standing across the street under a tree, watching the watchers and growing angry. They said they were frustrated with what they regarded as a public humiliation of a leader they respect.

"I think this is a witch hunt," said Marie Thangadurai, who lives nearby. "Mayor Dixon is a decent person and she loves Baltimore.

"She's cleaning up everything and fixing up the city. ... They need to leave her alone."

Dixon was at home when the prosecutors - accompanied by members of the state police - began their search, but she didn't stay for long.

Within an hour she had headed to the gym, leaving a city police officer and Maj. David Engel, head of the unit that supervises protection for the mayor, to watch as prosecutors, without explanation, rolled a blue-and-white cooler into the house.

Dixon returned about 9:10 a.m. She stepped out of a black Chevrolet Suburban with her daughter and a City Hall aide, while one of her police bodyguards looked on. She walked in the front door and did not take questions from reporters.

An hour later, Dixon left through the front door of her house with her aide, climbed back into the SUV and drove away. She still declined to answer questions.

"If you want to ask questions, ask them," Dixon said, referring to the prosecutors.

But they weren't talking and didn't appear to be in much of a hurry. Around lunchtime, a worker for the state prosecutor's office arrived in a Dodge Caravan minivan and walked into the house with a Trader Joe's grocery bag.

By this time, word of the raid had spread across the radio and television airwaves. Neighbors began to gather on the street and talk about the search and what it might mean for Dixon's future.

Nancy Smith, a board member of the Hunting Ridge Community Assembly, said she has known Dixon for 17 years.

She said she thought Dixon was doing a "fabulous job" as mayor, and credited her with being involved with leading the city and helping its neighborhoods.

"I'm not sure about all this investigation," Smith said. "Yes, I read the papers. Yes, I know that there were things that were under investigation, but my relationship with the mayor has always been great."

Through the early afternoon, reporters and television camera crews waited on the sidewalk across the street from the mayor's house, their video cameras and microphones pointed at the mayor's front door.

About 1:45 p.m., six investigators and a state trooper emerged with a hand truck piled with six boxes and the blue cooler. They put the boxes inside a minivan, along with the Trader Joe's bag.

Reporters asked questions, but the officials refused to say anything before driving away.

Some of the neighbors who watched said they were concerned that all the focus on the investigation would distract from the mayor's accomplishments. They said they are grateful that the Dixon administration is taking action to clean up trash, plant flowers in median strips and redevelop a once crime-ridden subsidized housing complex nearby, called Uplands Apartments.

They noted her more than two decades of public service on the City Council before she became mayor in 2006.

"Sheila Dixon has done a lot and she really cares," said Calvin Anderson, a landscaper who lives in the area. "Everybody doesn't have the answers, but she's searching for them."

Louis Fields, a longtime friend of Dixon's and president of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, said it's wrong that the investigation by the prosecutor's office has dragged on for more than two years without any resolution.

"How much of today's activity is politically motivated by race?" Fields demanded. "Sheila Dixon is the first African-American woman to lead this city. ... What is behind these charges?"State Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Democrat who lives in Baltimore County but owns property near Dixon's home, walked up to reporters to express her opinion.

"I think the mayor has been a great mayor," she said. "And I hope that there is nothing that would incriminate her."

Directly across the street from Dixon's home, Tanya Morrison, a nurse, peered out of her doorway at the reporters and camera crews camped out on her sidewalk, some in folding chairs.

"I think she's handled having press camped out in front of her house with a lot of dignity and poise," said Morrison. "I was a little taken aback when I came home and saw my driveway was blocked by the media, but I just parked elsewhere. I have other things to worry about than having media on my lawn."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

tom.pelton@baltsun.com