Civil Rights

Pennsylvania Civil Rights Lawyer

At Schemery Zicolello we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania in a range of civil rights matters. In fact, we are one of the few law firms in Pennsylvania with extensive experience representing clients by virtue of having a number of lawyers whose practice areas emphasize in civil rights lawsuits.

Three of the partners at Schemery Zicolello, Michael J. Zicolello, Joshua J. Cochran, and Amy R. Boring have practices which focus on representing clients in civil rights lawsuits.

While there are many, many types of Civil rights lawsuits, the vast majority of cases pursued by the law firm of Schemery Zicolello can be broken down into four (4) categories:

  • Police Interaction
  • Prisoner cases
  • First Amendment
  • Employment discrimination – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Police Interaction

One category of civil rights cases are those that arise from Police Interactions. These types of cases often fall into one or more of three categories including searches and seizures, excessive force, and malicious prosecution (criminal charges without evidence of a crime).

Searches and Seizures

While the police are permitted to search persons and properties and/or seize property, they can only do so in certain limited situations. At Schemery Zicolello we have represented many clients throughout Pennsylvania where searches or seizures violated our clients’ rights. These types of cases included searches without a legal basis as well as seizures of persons or property in violation of the United States Constitution. If you have been subjected to a search of your home, car or other property without a warrant or based on a warrant which contains known falsehoods by the police, the search is likely unlawful and in violation of the United State Constitution. If your property has been seized, unless the property is serving as evidence of a crime for criminal prosecution, the police are not entitled to hold the property indefinitely. It must be returned or it will be in violation of your Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of your property without just compensation. In any situation where you feel your rights may have been violated by virtue of a search or seizure by the police, you should contact the attorneys at Schemery Zicolello to obtain a free review of your claim.

Excessive Force

When arresting a person, police may use force but they are precluded from using force which is excessive. What is “excessive” is a highly factual inquiry which depends on the particular facts of your case. Oftentimes when a case involves questions of excessive force, the police over-charge any crime that may have occurred. These additional charges most often include resisting arrest and assault. This is used as leverage to induce a guilty plea, which can make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to pursue a civil rights claim for use of excessive force by the police.

Sometimes excessive force claims include claims against the police department or municipality for failure to property train, flawed procedures or policies and/or negligent hiring of police officers with a record of excessive force.

At Schemery Zicolello, we represented injured clients throughout Pennsylvania against police and municipalities for the unconstitutional use of excessive force. If you have been injured as a result of an interaction with the police where you believe excessive force was used, you should contact the attorneys at Schemery Zicolello to obtain a free review of your situation.

Maliciouis Prosecution

When charging people with a crime police must have actual evidence of a crime AND evidence that the person charged committed that crime. However, sometimes police officers will charge you with a crime without that evidence. This is malicious prosecution. When that happens your constitutional rights may have been violated.  However, all malicious prosecution claims depend entirely on the outcome of the criminal charges. It is impossible to succeed on a malicious prosecution claim if you have plead guilty or been found guilty on any of the charges against you. Generally speaking, the charges must have been completely withdrawn or dismissed in your favor.

Malicious prosecution claims often include claims for false arrest and false imprisonment, if you’ve spent any time in custody or prison.

If you believe you were charged with a crime without evidence that you committed that crime and the charges were dismissed in your favor, you should contact the attorneys at Schemery Zicolello for a free consultation on your possible malicious prosecution claim.

First Amendment

The First Amendment to the United State Constitution protects every individual’s right to free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion. The freedoms secured by the First Amendment are specifically limited to protections from Government interference. Government action is all around us. If a person is acting on behalf of the State, County or Local government or any government agency, they are for purposes of the First Amendment the Government and their actions are the actions of the Government.

Freedom of Speech

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech relating to any matter of political, social, or other concerns to the community. It protects unpopular speech from Government interference. Why do we say “unpopular speech”? Because popular speech does not need protecting. How can the Government interfere with your speech rights? In many ways, large and small. It could threaten your livelihood or limit your ability to speak at a town meeting. At Schemery Zicolello we represent clients in free speech claims throughout Pennsylvania. From property owners who were subjected to selective zoning in retaliation for their free speech to Government employees who suffered adverse job decisions in their employment as a result of their speech.

If you believe the Government, through any Government employee, has taken action against you for your retaliation for your free speech, you may have a free speech retaliation claim and should contact the attorneys at Schemery Zicolello for your free consultation.

Freedom of Association

In an area of particular abuse, perhaps emboldened by a misunderstanding of the 2018 United States Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which held that Government employees could not be required to pay union fees, local Government has waged a widespread war against local unions and their union leadership. We have seen irrational antagonism against unions lead to baseless employment discipline and work-related investigations of union officers solely because supervisory employees wanted to weaken the union. Similar inclinations have also led to refusal to hire employees who were known to be previous union leaders. It is a violation of an individual’s First Amendment right of Freedom of Association to retaliate against them for their association with a union. If you are employed by the Government and you believe your employer has made your job difficult or taken any action against you as a result of your union association, you may have a First Amendment Freedom of Association claim against your Government employer and should contact Schemery Zicolello for your free consultation.

Also, like Freedom of Speech claims, in any instance where the Government, through any Government employee, has taken action against you for your retaliation for your Association with a particular group or even a in some instances a single person, you may have a free association retaliation claim and should contact the attorneys at Schemery Zicolello for your free consultation.


 Everyone is protected by the United States Constitution even if you are a in prison awaiting trial or after a conviction. When you are incarcerated, your rights are somewhat different from the general public. Your rights flow from the fact that you are in the custody of Government and they have a duty to protect your welfare.

Prisoner civil rights claims are generally broken down into three categories:

  • Prison suicides;
  • Sexual abuse/harassment by staff;
  • Denial of medical care

Prison Suicides

Every prison suicide should be reviewed by an experienced civil rights attorney. This is because the shock of confinement/incarceration can exacerbate even minor pre-existing mental health issues. ALL prisons are required to screen inmates for suicidal tendencies and to then take appropriate preventive measures. In our view, there are NO instances where a prison suicide occurs and the prison is not at fault. The pursuit of such cases requires an attorney with knowledge of the interworking of prisons and acts as to appropriate medical, psychological and prison policies and procedure experts. At Schemery Zicolello we have represented many families of victims of prison suicides and are prepared to review and handle your case.

Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Staff

Sexual harassment or abuse by correction employees is a violation of the Eight Amendment which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. A convicted prisoner has a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. An inmate from a legal standpoint, is unable to consent to sexual conduct with a correction employee. This is because the inmate is a prisoner and the corrections employee is their jailer. An area of widespread and shocking abuse are male correction employees at female prisons sexually exploiting the inmates. At Schemery Zicolello we have successfully represented women in many cases against County and State prisons arising from sexual exploitation. If you or a loved one feels they have been a victim of sexual exploitation while an inmate at a State or County prison, please contact Schemery Zicolello for your free consultation.

Denial of Medical Care

While in prison, all inmates are entitled to basic medical care. Not the best care, but necessary or essential care. If an inmate is physically harmed as a result of the denial of necessary medical care they may have a claim under the Eight Amendment of the United States Constitution which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of the denial of basic medical care while an inmate in a State or County prison, please contact Schemery Zicolello for your free consultation.

** If an inmate is subjected to treatment they feel violates their Constitutional rights, they must fully follow all steps of the prison grievance system even if it is futile, or they could forever lose their right to pursue a civil rights claim in court. Please note that this rule only applies while the inmate is incarcerated. Once the inmate has been release from prison, the requirement to raise issues through the prison grievances is no longer in effect.

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