A D.C. Superior Court jury ordered the city government yesterday to pay $1.6 million to a former Lorton Reformatory inmate who suffered skull fractures and brain damage when he was beaten in his cell by other prisoners nearly 12 years ago.

William E. Brown, who was 18 years old and serving a sentence for second-degree murder at the time of the attack, claimed in his suit that he had complained to prison guards for two months that the lock on his cell door was broken but that Lorton officials never did anything about it.

"It's justice for Mr. Brown. After 12 years of this, he deserves it," said Brown's attorney, Douglas Smith. "Somebody has to send a message that they city officials just have to take better care of their residents. They just don't seem to care."

Deputy D.C. Corporation Counsel Martin L. Grossman said the city will ask for a new trial.

He declined further comment.

Brown, who was convicted in 1971 for his involvement in a robbery and murder, was incarcerated at one of Lorton's youth centers when he was attacked in the early evening of May 5, 1973.

Brown said he was asleep on his bed when a group of unknown assailants entered his cell and beat him on the head, apparently with metal pipes. Brown claimed that the city was negligent for not fixing the lock on his cell door and for not providing more guards to patrol the compound.

The city had asked that the suit be dismissed, saying that Brown failed to mention the broken lock in his claim until three years after the incident occurred.

They said this omission hampered their ability to fully investigate the attack.

Brown's assailants were never found and Brown testified that he had no idea who might have wanted to hurt him. The sole inmate witness to testify on Brown's behalf, Jefferson Yeldell, told the jury that he had seen a group of inmates apparently looking for Brown, but that he did not recognize them.

Maryland's former chief of public safety, Gordon Kamka, testified that officials at Lorton should check locks on cell doors regularly and make prompt repairs. It was inadequate to have just one guard posted in the dormitory, Kamka said.

Lorton security officials told the jury that one guard was sufficient.

Brown was taken to D.C. General Hospital following the attack, where he was treated for multiple skull fractures. Smith said that bone fragments had been driven deep into Brown's brain and that a portion of the brain had to be removed.

Smith said that Brown suffers permanent brain damage, regular seizures, memory loss and lack of concentration.

"He just can't relate to people like he used to," Smith said.

Brown was treated at federal prisons around the country until his parole in 1981. He is now unemployed and living with his mother, Roberta Wilson.

Wilson said her son was paralyzed from the waist down two years ago when his back was broken in an automobile accident and he is confined to a wheelchair.

"I hope it [the verdict] makes a difference in his life," she said. "He's going to need it to try and live."