Joseph P. Yeldell, a former top-ranking department head in the District of Columbia government, was acquitted yesterday of assault and battery charges that grew out of a confrontation at a Silver Spring service station May 5.

Yeldell, who once headed the Department of Human Resources and now holds a $50,000-a-year District government job as a computer specialist, was accused of striking Albert B. Gooray, 27, of Silver Spring.

Judge Leonard Ruben, who heard the case in Silver Spring District Court without a jury, acquitted Yeldell after hearing testimony from him and Gooray plus several witnesses.

Jay Bernstein, Yeldell's attorney, argued that Yeldell acted in self defense and felt "in imminent danger of physical harm."

The incident began when Yeldell drove his Lincoln sedan into Steuart's carwash and gasoline station at 7996 Georgia Ave. while Gooray was driving out. Neither car could move without scraping the other, according to testimony, and Yeldell ask Gooray to move his car.

"He said, 'get the hell out of here," Gooray testified. "He called me a foreign m---- f----; I don't know if I can say the words."

Gooray said Yeldell then got out of his car, opened the door of Gooray's Toyota, pulled him out and "gave me a few hits on the side. Then he got back in his car and drove to the pumps."

Gooray testified that as he was walking to a nearby pay phone to call police Yeldell approached and punched him.

Yeldell denied pulling Gooray from his car or punching him.

He said Gooray approached him at the gas pumps, saying "'nigger, you hit my car,'" and "nigger, I'm going to make you pay."

Yeldell said he "pushed Gooray away from me. I pushed him away because I did not know what he was going to do.

Gooray denied calling Yeldell a nigger.

None of the other witnesses who testified yesterday said he had seen Yeldell punch Gooray, although a witness for Yeldell said he saw Yeldell "push at him, but not take a swing at him."

Following the verdict, Yeldell remarked that the charges against him "cost me a lot of time and inconvenience."

Last fall, Yeldell and multimillionaire businessman Dominic F. Antonelli were acquitted by a federal jury of bribery and conspiracy charges after a trial in Philadelphia.

That verdict ended nearly three years of government efforts to prove that the pair corruptly conspired in the award of a $5.6 million lease for a building owned by Antonelli. They had been found guilty at an earlier trial in the District, but that conviction was set aside and a new trial ordered.