By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York prosecutors on Monday will begin making their case against a city police officer accused of manslaughter for accidentally shooting dead an unarmed black man in an unlit housing project stairwell.
New York City Police Department officer Peter Liang, 28, also faces criminally negligent homicide and other charges for firing the single shot that struck Akai Gurley, 28, in the chest, killing him, in November 2014.
The shooting contributed to racial tensions and debate over policing methods in the United States that prompted protests across the country.
Just days after Gurley's death, a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer for killing black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. Less than two weeks later, a New York grand jury cleared a white officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
Liang's partner, Shaun Landau, is expected to testify for the prosecution under an immunity agreement.
Liang has opted for a trial by jury, rather than a judge-only bench trial, and it appears likely he will testify to explain what happened on the night of Nov. 20, 2014.
Prosecutors are due to make their opening statements on Monday in state court in Brooklyn, after which defense lawyers will lay out their case.
Liang had his gun drawn as he and Landau entered a darkened stairwell in a Brooklyn public housing project during a routine patrol. As Gurley entered the stairway one floor down, Liang fired a bullet that ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley.
Prosecutors say Liang acted recklessly in drawing his weapon in the first place.
Liang and Landau spent several minutes arguing about whether to call in the shot, according to prosecutors, although authorities have not alleged that the officers realized someone had been shot.
Lawyers for Liang have portrayed the shooting as a tragic accident and have said Liang committed no criminal wrongdoing.
At the time, Liang had been on the force for 18 months.
The jury of seven men and five women includes only one black juror, according to news reports.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)