The officer believed the 34-year-old suspect was reaching into his pocket for a gun in the flashpoint Wednesday in Phoenix, in which the man was shot twice in the chest after a struggle.
It was subsequently found that Rumain Brisbon had only pills in his pocket.
The shooting occurred when the officer went to investigate reported drug-related activity outside a convenience store.
“During the struggle Brisbon put his left hand in his pocket and the officer grabbed onto the suspect’s hand, while repeatedly telling the suspect to keep his hand in his pocket,” said Phoenix police department in a statement.
“The officer believed he felt the handle of a gun while holding the suspect’s hand in his pocket,” it said.
“The officer was unable to maintain his grip on the suspect’s hand during the struggle. Fearing Brisbon had a gun in his pocket, the officer fired two rounds, striking Brisbon in the torso.”
Paramedics treated Brisbon but he died at the scene. The officer was not injured.
Marci Kratter, a Phoenix attorney representing the family, said: “There are numerous witnesses that will challenge the police officer’s account of what transpired.”
“It was a senseless tragedy. He was unarmed and not a threat to anyone. We intend to pursue this to the full extent of the law,” she told the Arizona Republic newspaper.
The incident happened as demonstrations continued in New York after a series of similar cases.
A grand jury declined Wednesday to charge a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black father-of-six in July on Staten Island.
The jury decision came a week after another grand jury also opted not to charge a white policeman in the fatal shooting in August of an unarmed black teenager in Missouri. (AFP)