Near the entrance to the Charles County subdivision that was set ablaze last year, someone on Halloween night scrawled words that the Charles County Sheriff's Office is investigating as a possible racial slur.

A deputy driving past the Hunters Brooke subdivision at 8:23 a.m. yesterday found graffiti that included a word sometimes used pejoratively about black people written in tar on a retaining wall near the Indian Head neighborhood, police said.

The subdivision was the site of one of the most extensive arsons in state history when on Dec. 6 two dozen upscale homes were damaged or destroyed. One of the five defendants in the case said when he pleaded guilty in April that he targeted Hunters Brooke because a large number of black people were buying homes there.

Capt. Joseph C. Montminy said police canvassed the neighborhood yesterday but found no witnesses. The graffiti were found at the bottom of a hill that separates Route 225 and the houses.

He said it was possible that the graffiti referred to Halloween rather than any racist sentiments. But he said the investigation would proceed as if it was a racial slur.

"It may be a coincidence," he said. "I certainly hope that's what it is."

The incident took place as lawyers prepared to file a federal civil rights lawsuit today on behalf of some Hunters Brooke residents against some or all of the five men, who are all white, charged in the fires.

"The recent criminal prosecutions of the suspects have confirmed that the arsons were motivated in an attempt to keep African American families from moving into Hunters Brooke," said Isabelle Thabault, director of the Fair Housing Project of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, a public interest organization that is filing the lawsuit, along with a law firm.

Staff writer Eric Rich contributed to this report.