Tragic events in 2014 fanned long-burning embers of bitterness about police treatment of black men. Deaths of African Americans in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island sparked mass demonstrations and critical discussions about police use of force. But throughout those months, the public heard little from officers who have used lethal force. And, as we found, it isn’t easy to get a police officer to talk about killing someone.

One Massachusetts officer was willing to do it, though, because he thinks people need to hear officers’ point of view. Lt. Detective David Gecoya of the Saugus Police Department said no officer he knows wants to hurt or harass people. He said he certainly didn’t.

“I didn’t wake up in the morning and say, 'Jeez, I hope I get into a gun fight today,'" Gecoya said. "I hope I don’t ever do it again, to be honest with you."

On an unusually warm morning in March 2012, then-43-year-old Gecoya was working undercover to expose a drug ring. He was heading out to buy drugs — wearing shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt — when he heard about a robbery in progress at a bank across town, in Malden. Gecoya arrived just in time to confront a suspect. Later, he would be grateful the situation was so clear cut, compared to the incidents in Ferguson and Staten Island. The bank robbery suspect was armed, and pointed a gun at Gecoya, according to an investigation by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office.

“That’s what I saw," he said. "I saw the gun and — as I shot, he looked like a target that we shoot at. I couldn’t tell you what he looks like.”

The whole thing took 54 seconds. The suspect, who was white, died from a fatal gunshot to the head. Gecoya, who’s 5'6" and is also white, was uninjured — but his heart was pounding.

"I guess I wasn’t prepared for it," he said. "I actually didn’t think it was ever going to happen. You hear about it happening in New York and Boston. Not in Saugus and Malden."

Gecoya was shocked when the department told him he had to be investigated for a "homicide." He said he had never been accused of using excessive force before. Still, the department took his gun away, interviewed him, and made him stay home for weeks as they investigated.

"I didn’t feel like I was protected by anyone," he said.

That turned the world upside down for Gecoya, who grew up in Saugus wanting to be a marine biologist or engineer, but instead became an officer because so many cops he met were kind to him. Gecoya said back then police departments and unions may have shielded officers who made mistakes — but he said people who think that happens now are wrong.

"I think the days of, 'We all bond together and if we do something wrong, we’re going to hide it,' I think those days are far past us,” he said.

Eventually Gecoya was cleared and the governor gave him an award. He said he didn't think about the incident until recently, when one of his two young sons asked him about the shooting.

"And he asked me, well how do you feel? Do you feel bad? And I said I feel bad that I took someone’s life, but I don’t feel bad that he didn’t take mine," Gecoya said, adding that he didn’t even remember the suspect’s name, because he had blocked it out as a coping mechanism. "Then I’m looking at my kid and thinking well, this guy was someone else’s kid. It kinda hit me."

Attempts to contact the suspect's family were unsuccessful.

Gecoya didn't want to discuss the fatal shootings of two New York cops by a man who said he was retaliating for Eric Garner's death, and for police killings of black men. But Gecoya did talk about being mystified by all the discussions about race.

"It bothers me personally. Because, like, I don’t care who you are. You could be a Martian,” he said. “For me, it’s kinda like, you did this, and we have to fix it because you just did something you shouldn’t have been doing."

It also bothers Gecoya that people think they can judge the actions of officers just by watching TV. He said it feeds into the feeling cops already had that the public doesn’t trust them, or even want them around, until something bad happens.

"I have no problem taking criticism," Gecoya said. "But if you truly want to fix it, then we have to fix it together."

Gecoya, a former training sergeant who’s on a statewide defense tactics review committee, said police should get more funding to train cops for potentially fatal situations. And he said police should to do a better job of educating the public — so more citizens trust that when officers use fatal force, they have no other choice.