A 79-year-old clergyman who went limp and refused to move after his arrest during a protest here this week was prodded in a court cell block with a high voltage electrical device designed to subdue unruly suspects, the U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia confirmed yesterday.

Marshal Herbert M. Rutherford III said the incident involving the so-called "stun gun" occurred Tuesday in the cell block at the U.S. District Court where persons arrested in a series of demonstrations around the city were taken by police for processing. Prisoners in the cell block are in the custody of the Marshals Service.

The Rev. Maurice McCrackin of Cincinnati, who took part in a demonstration organized by a religious group, said he had refused to walk as an act of passive resistance and received "a very heavy, stinging electrical charge to the legs seven or eight times."

In an interview yesterday after his release from custody, McCrackin said the marshal using the electrical device "kept saying, 'You're going to walk. You're going to walk.' "

"We have determined that a stun gun was used," Rutherford said last night. He said the deputy involved had been transferred and that an investigation is under way "to determine whether the use of the stun gun was appropriate." The name of the deputy was withheld.

Rutherford described the "stun gun" as a small hand-held device that is "basically a defensive weapon . . . " designed to offer law enforcement officers an alternative to deadly force in subduing an "attacker or perpetrator."

Use of the device to induce somebody to move "would depend on how uncooperative the person was," Rutherford said.

He said the devices were issued some time ago to members of the marshals service.

Rutherford said an inquiry into the matter followed a complaint made by McCrackin to the marshals' office here. He said he understood that McCrackin had reported a swollen wrist that apparently was suffered when he was lifted during processing. No injury from the stun gun was reported, he said.

McCrackin was one of more than 150 persons arrested during a day of protests organized by the Sojourners evangelical community. The groups were protesting apartheid, U.S. policy in Central America and other things.

The clergyman, who said he had been taking part in protests since 1948, said he followed his usual procedure of going limp from the time he is arrested until he is released.

McCrackin was released on personal recognizance yesterday by a federal magistrate and expects to return to Cincinnati this weekend.