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Taj Mahon-Haft teaches criminal justice courses, including a seminar on the war on drugs.
Taj Alexander Mahon-Haft
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
A Radford University assistant professor of criminal justice who teaches a “War on Drugs” seminar is facing possession of synthetic drugs and marijuana charges.
Taj Mahon-Haft , 34, was indicted Friday on three counts of possession of a Schedule I controlled substance and one count of possession of marijuana. Radford police Lt. Andy Wilburn said Mahon-Haft turned himself in and was arrested Monday.
According to a search warrant filed in Radford Circuit Court on Dec. 22, an officer responded to a residence in the 2000 block of Third Street after a neighbor reported an open side door.
After the officer announced his presence and did not receive a response, he entered the house in order to check on any potential burglary suspects, the warrant states.
The officer went into a room upstairs and observed a “green leafy plant-like material … a multicolored smoking device … a mirror, a rolled up dollar bill, a razor and a white powdery substance … in a line as in preparation for consumption,” according to the warrant.
The officer did not make contact with any suspect and left the residence to apply for the search warrant. Another officer stayed at the location, according to the warrant.
According to Mahon-Haft’s case file, he is charged, through direct indictments, with possessing pentedrone , alpha-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PVP), 4-Fluoroamphetamine (4-FA) and marijuana. The Schedule I drugs are on Virginia’s list of regulated synthetic drugs, often marketed as “bath salts.”
Linda Jackson, director of Virginia’s Department of Forensic Science , said the drugs are now being called research chemicals.
“ ‘Bath salts’ is sort of a term that was used because some compounds were being sold as ‘bath salts,’ just like some compounds were being sold as ‘plant food,’ ” Jackson said.
The street names were commonly used in attempts to legally sell the drugs.
In July, the General Assembly amended a year-old state law criminalizing chemicals known as “bath salts” to add newly identified chemical combinations. The new law added a more generic chemical description of synthetic cannabinoids so that new chemical compounds will be considered illegal.
Jackson said she can’t speak to the specific effects of the substances because the drugs are so new that extensive studies have not been completed. The drugs have been described as creating a cocaine-like high.
On a Radford University website page, Mahon-Haft states that his “research and activist efforts are focused on drugs & drug policy, race/ethnicity, media, and research methodology.”
He is currently teaching three introduction to criminal justice courses and the seminar, according to university information. Neither Mahon-Haft nor the university’s criminal justice department head could be reached Wednesday.
Radford University spokesman Joe Carpenter declined to say whether Mahon-Haft would be back in the classroom when students return from spring break on Monday.
According to Carpenter, the university was recently made aware of the charges and would follow policies spelled out in the university’s employee handbook.
The handbook states that employees can be disciplined — including discharge — if convicted of “any criminal drug law, based upon conduct occurring either on or off the worksite.” Mahon-Haft received a bachelor of science degree from Virginia Tech and master’s and doctoral degrees from Washington State University, according to online information.
He aided in evaluating the alternative sentencing program in the drug courts of Clark County, Wash., according to his profile on a Radford University website page.
“The past few years have involved a great deal of work on issues involving drugs, including a humble sampling of chapters and academic encyclopedia entries,” Mahon-Haft wrote on the website page. “I also had the good fortune of applying this expertise to help people and improve policy directly.”
At Washington State, according to online information, Mahon-Haft did a “grounded theory-based study on the meaning of and reaction to ‘inappropriate bar behavior’ by bar employees in two college town bars.”
Mahon-Haft was released on a $5,000 unsecured bond, according to the file. His next court date is scheduled for April 12.
Staff writer Tonia Moxley contributed information to this story.