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SANTA CRUZ -- Sheriff's deputies stopped by the homeless camping demonstration in front of the county courthouse early Sunday, but didn't write any tickets.

What activists call Peace Camp 2010, a protest of the city's so-called sleeping ban, is entering its fifth week of largely undisturbed camping near the County Government Center at Ocean and Water streets. The event, however, has raised questions about which laws are applicable to the county-owned patch of grass in front of the courthouse and who should enforce them.

The contact with sheriff's deputies around 1 a.m. Sunday marked the first time law enforcement officers have approached campers in the middle of the night.

Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Campos confirmed deputies went to the demonstration, but said they just wanted to see how the camp operated late at night and get an approximate participant count.

"It's just a preliminary investigation of what's going on there," Campos said.

Demonstrators reported the incident as a "raid" and said the camp was "under siege" on its Twitter site. However, they also noted the five deputies were "very respectful and well-supervised," and that demonstrators were given a choice to answer questions and be photographed. Most opted not to be.

One camper who identified himself as Kawika said Monday morning that demonstrators were told sheriff's deputies would be stopping by the camp during the early morning hours, possibly around 3 a.m. Sunday.

"We already knew. We were awake," said Kawika, who said he has been in Santa Cruz about nine weeks. "... It was just a token little thing."

Photo: Kawika, who was a fixture at the County Building before Peace Camp 2010, has not been welcomed by the protesters. His campsite has since been relocated to a less conspicuous area, and Peace Camp 2010 protesters have regained the area, returning sanitation. --Dan Coyro/SENTINEL

Christopher Doyon, 45, also homeless, called it "strictly a video-and-warn kind of situation. It went about as smoothly as we could expect."

Peace Camp participants said they had been anticipating law enforcement officers would come to the camp, especially since an announcement by the county last week that confirmed the city's camping ordinance applies to the courthouse lawn even though the area is patrolled by sheriff's deputies, not city police.

The demonstration has drawn about 50 people each night. Doyon said the police presence has not affected participation and that morale is high.

"We're actually anxious for these tickets. ... This is what we came for, to challenge this law," Doyon said.

The demonstrators, who started camping at the foot of the county's justice building July Fourth, are demanding the City Council rescind its camping ban and forgive all prior camping citations.

So far, no citations have been issued, either by deputies or Santa Cruz police. Demonstrators have said they believe the county's announcement that the city law applies was a scare tactic and that nothing will be done.

But complaints about bad behavior, trash and other issues related to the protest have mounted in the past month. Campos declined to say if the Sheriff's Office intends to take action: "We're not prepared to talk about what we're doing, whether or not there's a plan."