By Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - A government autopsy of the unarmed black teenager whose killing by a white police officer set off months of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, suggests he suffered a gunshot to the hand from close range, according to a copy of the autopsy published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
The autopsy results could buttress claims by supporters of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson that the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18, was justified.
Activists said the leak of the report to the newspaper was adding to tensions in the community, which has been the site of numerous protests, some with clashes between demonstrators and police, in the 10 weeks since the shooting.
The report comes days after the New York Times, citing federal government officials briefed on a civil rights investigation, reported that Wilson told investigators he feared for his life and battled with Brown in his vehicle over his gun.
A grand jury is considering charges against Wilson, who has not spoken publicly about the shooting. Protesters have said they expect widespread unrest if he is not charged and local and state authorities have said they are preparing for that possibility.
"There is a lack of trust. That is why people are protesting every single night," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a civil rights organization. "They have a fundamental belief that the system is stacked against them. These continual leaks raise a lot of suspicion."
Ed Magee, a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor's office, said a decision is expected sometime in mid-November.
Brown's death has sparked protests across Ferguson, a primarily black community with a mostly white police force and city government, and has drawn global attention to race relations in the United States.
The St. Louis County medical examiner's autopsy indicates that Brown's hand was close to Wilson's weapon, according to forensic experts interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The autopsy said a microscopic examination of Brown's hand tissue showed particles "consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm." The medical examiner also found that Brown tested positive for marijuana.
A representative for the county medical examiner verified the authenticity of the autopsy report the newspaper posted and said the office did not provide the report to the Post-Dispatch.
The shooting happened shortly after noon on Aug. 9 when Brown was walking down the middle of a neighborhood street with a friend and Wilson, who was driving by, ordered them out of the street.
Accounts differ but witnesses and law enforcement officials have agreed that Wilson and Brown became embroiled in an altercation through the window of the Wilson's vehicle and Wilson exited his vehicle and shot Brown several times.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Bill Trott)