A Prince George's County Circuit Court jury awarded more than $4 million last night to 29 guards at the county jail who were fired after they went on strike in 1980. The strike prompted a rampage by the virtually unsupervised inmates.

The guards, who were reinstated by a court order in 1983, were seeking back pay and damages from the county and county officials. They were fired for striking by then-County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, who cited safety reasons in calling their 11-day strike illegal. But the guards were reinstated after a Circuit Court panel upheld the legality of their strike.

Last night's ruling can be appealed, but county officials had no immediate comment on their plans. Circuit Judge James Magruder Rea reserved the right to rule on several motions that could alter the amount of the settlement.

The jury awards ranged from as low as $76,000 to as much as $240,000 for each guard, depending on the guard's salary and computations of actual losses during their three years of joblessness. The guards were awarded a total of $900,000 in back pay, nearly $1.5 million in compensatory damages and more than $1.6 million in punitive damages.

"Our position was that they were not entitled to anything," said Assistant County Attorney Steven M. Gilbert.

Sgt. Steven Stewart, a jail guard supervisor who was awarded $202,000 after he testified about his extended joblessness, said after the verdict, "I'm pleased . . . I went through a lot of hardships and I think the jury picked up on it."

The guards' walkout on Aug. 12, 1980, was part of a strike over a contract dispute that included county office workers, road crews and landfill operators, all of whom were represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The suit named as defendants Hogan, Prince George's County, County Executive Parris Glendening, Director of Corrections Samuel F. Saxton and former director of corrections Arnette W. Gaston. Only the county government, Hogan and Gaston were found to be liable in last night's ruling. The county has borne all the expenses of the case so far and it is doubtful Hogan and Gaston will be held personally liable, Gilbert said.

The jury deliberated for 14 hours over two days before finding the defendants liable for three counts of wrongful termination, three counts of violating the Maryland Constitution, and one count of intentionally inflicting emotional stress. Rea was not present for the verdict because he flew to California yesterday to attend the Breeder's Cup horse race.

After most guards walked out at the jail in Upper Marlboro, inmates started fires, broke glass and ripped bunk beds from the walls. Hours later, 67 riot-equipped sheriff's deputies, county police and state troopers, accompanied by dogs, stormed the building to restore order.

The initial ruling that the guards' dismissal was wrongful was made by Rea, the same judge who presided this month at the trial of the guards' suit. Rea's reinstatement of the strikers was upheld on appeal. At that time, the county estimated that the guards might be entitled to $1.6 million in back pay, but the two sides could not negotiate a settlement.

During his closing argument Tuesday afternoon, Gilbert reminded jurors that during Winston Cochran's testimony on Monday, Cochran told the court that he deserved $100 million. Cochran, who never returned to work at the jail, was the only plaintiff to ask for compensation from the start of the strike through this month.

During his closing argument, Gilbert told the jury that some of the plaintiffs were asking for too much money. "Some of them think the county is made of money," he said.

But the plaintiffs' lawyer, Sandy David Baron, said his clients wanted "equitable and just compensation."

Earlier in the day the lawyers sparred during a recess when Gilbert told a reporter that "They {the plaintiffs} rejected an April 1983 offer . . . of $400,000 at the time."

Baron, standing within earshot, turned quickly and fired back: "They never offered a dime. They have always been of the position, 'Drag this thing out and maybe they {the plaintiffs} will lose interest.' "

Leonard R. Goldstein, Baron's partner and the attorney who represented the guards previously, stepped in and said that as recently as two months ago "Glendening told the county to drag this thing out as long as possible."

Gilbert denied the allegation that the government had been stalling.

Staff writer Keith Harriston contributed to this report.