Buddy Hardeman, a running back for the Washington Federals, was arrested and charged with assaulting a District police officer early Thursday morning outside a bar in downtown Washington, police said.

Hardeman, 28, spent four years as a running back and kick returner with the Redskins before joining the Federals this year.

Shortly after midnight, two police officers investigating the reported theft of a basket of flowers from a street vendor at 19th and M streets NW went into a nearby bar, the Pierce Street Annex, at 1210 19th St. They asked a man fitting the description given by the vendor to step outside.

The officers and the man were followed to the street by two other men and, according to police spokesman Sgt. Joseph Gentile, a "verbal and physical" altercation ensued. Police gave no further details of the incident.

Federals President James Gould disputed the charges against Hardeman, saying, "The police will have trouble on this one."

"Based on the witnesses we have, the police used excessive force and we're not going to tolerate that," said Gould. "They billy-clubbed him. He's a mess. Black eye, stitches in his forehead, blood on his shirt."

Owner Berl Bernhard said, "Buddy has his own counsel, but the team is also conducting a thorough internal investigation. We're not looking at this lightly. I want to know what the justification for this is. Initially, it strikes me as excessive."

Federals tight end Phil DuBois, 26, and John Horshok, 36, who accompanied Hardeman to the street with the police officers, were charged with disorderly conduct.

DuBois, a former Redskin, and Horshok, a businessman and friend of the players, were released pending an April court date after posting $10 collateral.

Federals General Manager Dick Myers said Hardeman was treated for head and hand injuries at D.C. General Hospital shortly after the incident. Later in the day, Hardeman was arraigned in D.C. Superior Court. He was ordered to appear at a preliminary hearing March 22.

At the Federals' practice field at RFK Stadium, DuBois said the group paid $50 for the flowers that the vendor had said were stolen. The group was passing out the flowers to customers in the bar when the police arrived, he said.

"The whole thing was a misunderstanding," said DuBois. "We didn't steal those flowers.

"They never identified themselves as officers," he said. "That's why I couldn't understand why they wanted us to come outside. They only told us they were police after it was all over."

Hardeman, who was released on his own recognizance after the arraignment, did not practice with the team yesterday and was not available for comment.

"Buddy Hardeman is still a member of the Federals in good standing," said Myers.

Federals Coach Ray Jauch said, "My first reaction was that this was completely out of character for Buddy. Nobody will be disciplined by me until we get the full facts of the case." The Federals play the Express in Los Angeles Monday night.

The incident followed a party given for Federals running back Craig James, who is to be married in Houston Saturday. James and wide receiver Walker Lee were also in the bar, according to Gould, but were not involved in the incident.