By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio police officer charged in the death of an unarmed 18-year-old burglary suspect pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to misdemeanor negligent homicide.

Cleveland patrolman Alan Buford, 49, who entered the plea in Cleveland Municipal Court, had been charged with fatally shooting Brandon Jones after the officer and his partner responded to a report of a break-in at a Cleveland convenience store in March 2015. Jones and Buford both are black.

Police said Buford had his gun drawn when he encountered Jones and a struggle ensued. Jones was shot once in the torso and died later that day in the hospital. Cleveland police union officials previously said the shooting was an accident.

Prosecutors had said that although Jones was exiting the store carrying a bag of stolen items including coins, cigars and cigarettes, use of deadly force was not merited.

If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Buford, who is out on bond, faces a maximum of six months in jail. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Buford's attorney, Henry Hilow, could not be reached to comment.

Jones' mother, Tonya Brown, filed a federal wrongful death suit April 18, 2016, against Buford and his partner Greg King and the city of Cleveland.

Cleveland police currently operate under a 2015 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after a report found Cleveland police systematically engaged in excessive use of force.

In 2014, a white officer in Cleveland shot and killed 12-year-old African-American Tamir Rice, who was carrying a replica gun that shoots plastic pellets. Rice's case was one of a number of deaths that led to nationwide demonstrations against the use of excessive force by police.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Ben Klayman and Bill Trott)