The superintendent of the Prince William County-Manassas regional jail, William Britton, resigned Friday night after he and his deputy were arrested by state corrections department officers and charged with conspiracy to falsify records.

Friday's arrest of Britton and Lt. Dell Audry stem from a Jan. 4 incident in which Britton allegedly issued a Woodbridge reporter a sergeant's badge so that the reporter could accompany Audry inside Mecklenburg State Corrections Center in Southside Virginia to interview an inmate about jail rapes.

Both Britton and Audry were supended without pay on Jan. 10 while the regional jail board conducted an investigation.

The Potomac News reporter, Dave Roman, also was arrested. He was charged with impersonating a law officer and falsifying prison records when he signed in at the prison as a sergeant.

All three were released on personal recognizance. They have been ordered to appear before a general district court hearing in Mecklenburg on March 11 to respond to the charges.

In an interview yesterday, Britton, 36, said he had decided to resign on the advice of his attorney. A jail board hearing into the matter scheduled for yesterday was canceled.

"The arrest came as a complete surprise," Britton said. "It wasn't imaginable that they would issue warrants in a case like this. I expected to be exonerated in the hearing." Britton said he hoped the case eventually comes to trial, but said he doubted that it would.

Britton said it was not his idea to issue credentials to the reporter, but he declined to elaborate. He said that in making arrangements for Roman go to Mecklenburg, he was "only following orders" of the jail board.

"I had been instructed to cooperate with Roman at every turn," Britton said, adding that the board had wanted to improve the jail's image. The old jail was frequently cited for being in poor condition and for chronic overcrowding, Britton said.

"It wasn't my intention to get Roman into Mecklenburg surreptitiously," Britton said. "I just intended for him to accompany me." Britton said he was occupied with other matters that day and decided to send the reporter with Audry instead.

Britton's superior, jail board chairman William Hamblen, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Hamblen earlier had told a reporter that he would not comment on the Jan. 4 incident or Britton's suspension.

Britton said that the idea of the Mecklenburg visit first came up when he, Roman, Prince William County Attorney John Foote and Hamblen discussed it at a December party.

Britton said relations between him and the current jail board have been strained the last year because of disagreements over how much money was needed to operate the jail.

Britton and Audry are black, and Britton said he believes his suspension might have been racially motivated. A spokesman for the Prince William County NAACP said the organization would look into the matter.