Fairfax County police began an internal investigation yesterday into allegations of police brutality during a melee Friday night between two officers and a family in a middle-class neighborhood.

Donald Rickman, his wife, Arline, his son, Timothy and stepson, Daniel Mancini say they were assaulted by officers James Cavender and Jerry L. Bowers while Cavender was arresting Timothy Rickman for drunk driving.

Donald Rickman, 52, and other witnesses say he was clubbed in the head and shoulders, held handcuffed over a fence and punched several times in the face and slammed into the hood of a patrol car by Bowers after he tried to stop the officer from assaulting his wife, 55, who recently underwent gall bladder surgery. The melee occurred in the Rickman's front yard.

The two policemen stated in a written report on the incident that Arline Rickman punched Cavender in the chest, Donald Rickman punched Bowers in the face and Mancini attempted to choke Bowers. A police source said yesterday Bowers had a bloody nose after the incident but a medical examination showed the nose was not broken.

The Rickmans and Mancini were charged with assault and obstruction of justice and Timothy Rickman was also charged with driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. Their court hearing is scheduled Oct. 12.

Deputy Police Chief Carroll D. Buracker yesterday ordered an investigation of the incident by the police department's internal affairs section. Citing the investigation, officials at police headquarters and at the Groveton substation, where the two officers work, refused to comment on the case.

Cavender, who has been on the force nearly six years, and Bowers, a seven-year veteran, said the internal affairs section had directed them not to comment on the incident until the investigation is complete. A member of the investigating section said he expected the probe would be finished by the middle of next week.

Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee), in whose district the melee curred, said he has asked police for a report on the incident.

"Sometimes the police have to deal with some very difficult people," said Alexander. "But these folks (the Rickmans) seem to be very respectable and law-abiding."