A D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday acquitted a 10-year District of Columbia police veteran charged with murdering an Arlington man last year during a racial incident outside a downtown disco.

The jurors deliberated little more than an hour before telling Judge William E. Stewart that they had found Michael Paul Clay, 34, of Alexandria, not guilty of murder in the death of 21-year-old Charles White Jr.

Clay, who is black, was off-duty but wearing a .38-caliber revolver in an ankle holster at the time of the incident. He testified that he accidentally shot White through the chin after being punched by one of a group of hostile white men who shouted racial epithets at him in a parking area in the 1700 block of G Street NW.

The shooting occurred at about 3 a.m. on Jan. 31, 1981, as Clay and a girlfriend were leaving a disco called "The Buck Stops Here." White and a group of friends were leaving a nearby bar called "The Exchange." The incident started when Clay asked a man to move a car so Clay could get his car onto the street.

Clay was charged with second-degree murder, but the trial became in part an examination of the dead man. Clay's attorney, Barry Stiller told the jury White was a "vicious individual" who was drunk at the time. He also presented witnesses who testified that White had been convicted in Arlington two years earlier of involvement in the shooting of a youth and had burglary charges pending against him.

Stiller praised Clay, who has won several citations for valor, as a "policeman's policeman."

The prosecutor, assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Cushenberry, told the jury of 11 blacks and one white that he understood they sympathized with Clay, but he contended the incident " could not have happened" the way Clay said it did.

According to lawyers for both sides, White's friends who witnessed the shooting testified that White had his arms up and Clay reached down, pulled out his gun and fired.

Clay has been suspended without pay since his indictment last May.