By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - The Justice Department will probe the Pasadena Police Department for possible civil rights violations related to a March 24 police shooting that killed Kendrec McDade, federal officials said Friday.

McDade, 19, was fatally shot on March 24 after police received a 911 call about an armed robbery. Officers responded and discovered McDade and a second teenager at the scene.

When the teens split up, they chased McDade and shot him when they thought he was reaching for a gun.

Police in Pasadena, California, asked the FBI this week to review the shooting death of McDade, an unarmed black college student, by two white officers.

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said in a statement posted Thursday on the department's website he had asked the FBI to consider reviewing the shooting.

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers another independent level of review," he said in the statement.

Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said Friday the FBI had "initiated an assessment ? to see if civil rights were violated."

The shooting is already under investigation by the department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office and the county's Office of Independent Review.

Shooting deaths of black teenagers have been under heightened scrutiny since the February killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman has not been charged.

The Pasadena incident began when a caller to a 911 emergency response line reported he had been robbed by two people with handguns. The caller followed the pair in his car while talking to police on his cell phone, according to police.

The two split, running in different directions, with two officers following McDade. When they saw the suspect's hands at his belt, they opened fire. McDade was unarmed.

McDade, a Citrus College student, died at a hospital. The second suspect, a 17-year-old black male, was arrested and charged in the robbery.

Police have arrested the 911 caller for falsely reporting an armed robbery and charged him with involuntary manslaughter.

The caller told officers he wanted to speed up the police response so he said his assailants were armed, police said in a statement.

An FBI spokesman was not immediately available to comment. The officers involved in the shooting death are on paid leave.

(Editing by Philip Barbara and Todd Eastham)