WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A jury awarded a cook $303,000 for nerve damage caused by tight police handcuffs.

David Robert Allegro, 26, was arrested March 17, 1990, in Boca Raton and charged with loitering and prowling.

The charges were dropped, but not before Allegro was handcuffed by two Palm Beach County sheriff's deputies and taken to jail, where he remained handcuffed for between two and four hours, said his lawyer, Richard Tullie.

''His hands turned black and he told them three or four times that the cuffs were too tight,'' Tullie said. ''They either didn't hear him or ignored him.''

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome developed in both wrists and Allegro had surgery to repair the nerve damage. His medical bills exceeded $13,000, Tullie said. Despite the surgery, the pain persisted. Allegro sued the sheriff's office, claiming the deputies were negligent.

Allegro, who now lives in Arizona, wept after a jury's verdict was read Friday.

''He feels vindicated,'' Tullie said. ''We would have all preferred that it hadn't happened.''