Pamela R. Martin was a "dependable, hard-working and extremely pleasant" clerk for the Alexandria sheriff's office for six weeks this summer. But she was wanted by police in North Carolina, according to an internal sheriff's office report.

Martin, a fugitive from charges of assault with a deadly weapon, petty larceny and check fraud in Gastonia, N.C., was allowed to leave her job at the city jail after she was confronted by an Alexandria deputy, according to the report, and "has not been seen since."

"We did everything right," said Sheriff Michael E. Norris yesterday, defending his staff's handling of the incident. "Of course, in a political climate, nothing is right."

Jim Dunning, Norris' opponent in the Nov. 5 sheriff's election, yesterday criticized Norris and said the episode "raises some concern about administrative oversight" in Norris' office. Norris is a Republican. Dunning, a federal employe, is running as an independent with Democratic backing.

"It's a basic standard in law enforcement to do a background check on someone handling sensitive information," Dunning said. "Having her in the jail handling inmate records -- that's potentially a very serious breach of security."

Norris said Martin worked in a nonsecurity area at the jail and did not handle prisoner records.

Norris also said he was looking into the "illegal" release of the internal report, which was first publicized yesterday in the Journal newspapers. "I'm looking into a crime," Norris said, adding that he has not authorized a full investigation of the leak.

According to Norris, Martin was a temporary employe referred to the Alexandria city personnel office by Kelly Services of Arlington. The city sent her to work for the sheriff's office, Norris said.

The sheriff said a background check on Martin was started after she applied for a full-time position. A check of computers at the National Crime Information Center showed she might be the person sought in an arrest warrant issued by Gastonia police, he said.

Norris said, however, that his office was furnished no fingerprints or photographs of Martin and that there were discrepancies about her height, weight and the date and place of her birth. Gastonia police were slow to decide whether they were willing to extradite her, he said.

An Alexandria deputy, Capt. Robert O'Bannon, confronted Martin on Sept. 20, according to the report, but was told by Martin that her wallet had been stolen at a Gastonia shopping mall and that Gastonia police must be seeking someone who had taken her identification.

"She offered what I mistakenly believed was a reasonable explanation," O'Bannon said in the report.

Martin was allowed to go to lunch that day while deputies tried to check again with Gastonia authorities for more precise information. So far, Norris said, "She's been there at lunch for about a month."

The criminal charges arose from a shoplifting incident, the sheriff said. He said a store security guard was dragged by a getaway car allegedly driven by Martin's boyfriend, in which Gastonia police say Martin was a passenger.

"It's Norris again blaming somebody other than himself," Dunning said yesterday. "In this case, he's blaming the city for referring Martin . This is not a new response from Mr. Norris. It's all somebody else's fault." Norris responded that Dunning "just doesn't know what he's talking about."