A Senate Judiciary Committee aide and staff attorney for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) was arrested and charged late Friday with being drunk in public, touching off a night-long melee between the aide and Prince William County police, according to accounts by both sides.

The incident, involving Bernard Dusenbury, 52, a Senate aide since 1978, left a county jail cell flooded with water, one officer hospitalized, and Dusenbury -- who also was charged with assaulting an officer -- claiming he was held illegally.

According to county police, the incident began shortly before midnight outside the Occoquan Inn when a patrolman arrested Dusenbury on a public drunkenness charge.

"A number of struggles ensued," said police Cpl. Michael Johnson. "Several citizens assisted the officer in subduing (Dusenbury) until a cage car could arrive at the scene."

Dusenbury, interviewed by telephone yesterday at his Woodbridge home shortly after his release from jail on $800 bond, denied he was drunk or breaking the law. "These folks just grabbed me and slung me in the car," he said.

But the attorney, who said he practiced law in FLORENCE, S.C., from 1952 until he joined Thurmond's Washington staff, reportedly was not about to go quietly.

"He kicked the arresting officer, G. E. Merrill, in the chest. There was no cooperation. He was resisting arrest throughout the night," Johnson said.

Dusenbury said he was initially placed in a bare overnight jail cell that was just "contrete and steel."

"I kept telling them that if they wouldn't let me call my attorney that I was being illegally arrested. I was mad as a wet sitting hen. I kept calling them Khomeinis and Iranians, but they wouldn't let me talk to anyone."

Johnson said a second officer was hospitalized after yet another struggle ensued inside the cell, adding that "at the magistrate's office, he butted officer Merrill in the head."

"It was real busy in there," Dusenbury acknowledged yesterday. "I took off my clothes and tried to flood the cell by stuffing up the sink. I told them that if we could reach a gentleman's agreement and let me make a telephone call that I would stop resisting.

"Then a fight started," Dusenbury continued. "They were tapping me with billyclubs but I landed a couple of good ones myself."

Dusenbury reportedly told his jailers several times that he worked with Thurmond on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Judiciary Committee, but it apparently didn't impress them.

"He would have been allowed to make a telephone call from the lockup, but when he was assaulting and resisting arrest, that didn't seem to make very much sense," Johnson said. He also denied that Dusenbury was struck with billyclubs, although "they may have been used in an attempt to restrain him," he said.

Dusenbury, who said he suffered swollen wrists he received from handcuffs, sore shins from leg irons, and a cut that required four stitches, said yesterday he was "utterly confounded" by the night's events and the treatment he allegedly received.

"I've always been pro-law enforcement," Dusenbury said, but then added, "we're going to have some fun on this one."

Johnson said further charges may be filed against Dusenbury in connection with the officer who was hospitalized.

Dusenbury, a Greenville, S.C., native, is a former member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, he said, "representing the little people against the big."

Assaulting a police officer is a class one misdemeanor that can carry a 12-month jail sentence.

"It's a heckuva way to start off the Memorial Day weekend," said Johnson.